Employment First In New Jersey – What’s It Mean and How Can It Help You?

Employment First - New Jersey Gets to Work

First Employment – Disability Second

Employment First - New JerseyIn April of 2012, Governor Chris Christie declared New Jersey an Employment First state. With this simple declaration, New Jersey became a part of a national movement that is “centered on the premise that all citizens, including individuals with significant disabilities, are capable of full participation in integrated employment and community life.” (Via Departement of Labor) This urges local publicly-financed systems to adjust their programs and policies to promote integrated, competitive employment opportunities for people with disabilities and special needs.

Phew. That was a lot of three-syllable-words.

In plain-speak though, what does it all mean? It means

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How I Make Accessible Trips from New Jersey to the Big Cities

Disability and the City

Those of us living in New Jersey are lucky enough to have easy travel access to two of America’s greatest cities: New York City and Philadelphia. However, having a disability can make these trips tricky to manage. Hi, my name is William Volkmann and I have Cerebral Palsy. When I was younger I could walk down city streets and hop into cabs, although it was demanding. Now that I’m older, I see now how much harder it is to get the same experience, but I don’t discourage anyone from making it happen. You just need to plan, research, map it out and most importantly have fun! I mostly get around by driving and using a walker, but when I hit the city streets, I use a wheelchair. It makes sense for me and is the easiest decision I have to make when planning a visit to these cities.


Accessible Trips
Wheelchair Users St Pauli Disability Hamburg


Access and Travel – How to Have Both

For instance, to go to New York City, it is hard to drive in the city and parking is super expensive. So, while for most people without a disability, taking a train to the city is easy and fast, this is not the case for me or others using wheelchairs. First off, to get on and off the train, you need a ramp. To get a ramp, you have to wave down a conductor to put down the ramp for you. You also have to hope they remember you when you arrive in the city so they can put the ramp down for you to exit. Now you are off the train, you have to make sure the platform’s elevator is working. If it isn’t… you may find yourself stuck way underground. Luckily, they work most of the time. When you finally get to the main area in Penn Station, there are only two elevators to bring you up to ground level, and they are hidden. Best bet? Ask someone to show you where they are or you could be cruising around the station for an hour trying to find them.

Once you get to street level, you’ve got three options:

  1. CAB: If you want a wheelchair accessible cab, be prepared to wait a while. They are fewer in number and you will have to wait for everyone else anyways.
  2. ROLL THE STREETS: I mostly just roll down the streets, you might think this is easy, but New York City isn’t the most accessible place. Not every street has curb cutouts, so sometimes I feel I’m on an island with no way to cross the street unless I backtrack. I end up hoping there’s a clear way in a different direction that is also headed in the direction of where I want to go. More often than not, there is, but sometimes I am stuck and can’t go where I want to go. To learn what works and what doesn’t may take some trial and error.
  3. SUBWAY: You might be thinking “why doesn’t he take the subway?” Well, only 93 out of 425 subway stations have elevators (this is counting all the five boroughs) and a recent study shows 75% of them are not working most of the time. So I don’t even bother with this route.

Take MYSELF Out to the Ballgame

Accessible Trips the the CityUntil this year, the Long Island Railroad didn’t have an elevator at Citi Field, which I was bummed about because I wanted to go watch a game. To get there, I had to take NJ Transit to Penn Station, hop on the LIRR, get off one stop BEFORE Citi Field, and THEN had to go on the subway for one stop, JUST so I could use that elevator there get to the ballpark. Very frustrating. Mind you, you need to look all this up on the internet beforehand if you don’t want to get stuck. For everything else, I recommend apps like Wheelsmap to learn where there are accessible bathrooms, restaurants, etc. but they don’t help much with street routes.

In Philadelphia, it is a bit different, I drive there in my wheelchair van. The most difficult thing is finding a disabled wheelchair spot. Even if I do, most of the time I can’t get my wheelchair lift out of the side because the spaces are so narrow. I found the city streets not as hard to get around as in New York City. There are more ramps and curb cuts so therefore you will be less likely to have to reroute your journey. Still, I recommend using the internet and the app I mentioned to plan out your routes ahead of time to save you time and the inevitable headache.

I still have fun in the cities, but it comes with the pressure of having to map everything out and you still might hit a snag or two. Whether it’s your wheelchair being low on power or construction alters your direction. The best way to look at it is as a mini adventure and you must be prepared at all times. You’re foraging into the concrete jungle to discover new things and overcome obstacles. In the end, the struggle will make the reward that much more enjoyable. Have fun and I hope this post helped you prepare for your next city excursion.

About the Author:

Bill Volkmann is a New Jersey resident with Cerebral Palsy and a guest blogger for Easterseals New Jersey. He previously lived in Texas where he helped a local politician develop a platform that addressed the needs of people with disabilities throughout the state. Now he is lending his writing skills to Easterseals and wants to share the following message:

“Through the blog, I want to help start a public discussion about the things the disabled community is concerned about. How to volunteer, get a job, get an education, overcome social barriers,  find transportation, deal with physical obstacles, and the other challenges we face every day. I look forward to helping Easterseals, to inspire, encourage, and listen and to help young adults with these challenges and more. I hope you come on this journey with me as we try to make it easier for people with disabilities integrate into society for this generation and the next.”


5 Essential Tips on How to Shut Down Offensive Labels

R-word, Labels

A War of Words: “Politically Correct” vs “Plain Speaking”

Political Correction for the Politically Incorrect Labels

When it comes to the community of persons with disabilities and special needs, labels are a hot topic. We use certain words to describe individuals or ourselves. Unfortunately, words have the power to hurt feelings and limit expectations. We’d rather those words NOT be used to label us. On the other hand, we have a number of individuals who are opposed to using “politically correct” language. They feel they should be able to use whatever words they so choose without retribution. People draw a line in the sand and stop listening to one another. Let’s dive in and see why this is and how we can start a conversation, rather than a war of words.

Unfortunately, the battle lines are drawn and the sides have been established. On one side, we have those who favor “politically correct” language and on the other, we have those who favor “plain speak.” Many people are fed up with having to police their words and feel like, no matter what they say, they will inevitably offend someone. They don’t understand why people have such “thin skins.” In response, these “plain speakers” are condemned for their choice of words. Attacks such as these put people on the defensive and shut down any opportunity for anyone to walk away the interaction feeling like there was a positive outcome.

How do we change this? How can we turn this negative into a positive? We have a few ideas.

Most People are Good People… No, really.

The first step towards making everyone more aware that they should not be using offensive language, is by first accepting that most people, are good people. They don’t understand how hurtful this language is to people with disabilities. Granted, there are individuals who DO use these words callously or to be purposely hurtful. Changing THESE people is not something we can cover in this post, better to move on and focus on what we can control, rather than what we cannot. If you ever do encounter someone who you feel is being purposely hurtful, do your best to ignore them or report their actions to someone who will help separate you from the offensive individual.

TIP 1 Avoid the high-horse.

Righteous indignation feels good. When you are so convinced that you are in the right and that whoever you are speaking to is wrong, it can feel sooooo satisfying to rub it in their faces. The problem is that this is not the most effective method to affect change. If someone has said something offensive and you feel morally obligated to address it, take a moment and remind yourself that most people are good people. Approach the situation with humility, understanding that, at some point, we’ve all said silly things without thinking. Try to remember how we were treated in those moments and how we wish we had been treated. This is your opportunity to change someone’s mind and make a difference, don’t throw it away just to feel superior.

TIP 2 Breathe.Keep Calm

Before you say anything, take a deep breath and try to relax. You have faced ignorance and are now understandably upset. The problem is, you may lash out and end up saying something that won’t be very constructive. The last thing you want is to turn a conversation into a shouting match. Be true to your emotions, but don’t let them get the best of you.

TIP 3 Isolate When Possible

People grow incredibly defensive when confronted in a group setting. They feel that if they do not retaliate to a perceived attack on their character, they will end up looking weak. Their response will be unpredictable and uncontrollable. Better to ask if you can speak with the individual privately, this can help avoid the awkwardness of calling someone out in public.

TIP 4 Educate and Express

Take the time to explain to the individual that the word they used hurt your feelings and that you’d prefer they wouldn’t use it in your presence. Afterward, be sure to let them know that you know they weren’t using it to be hurtful and that you don’t think less of them. Follow it up with letting them know why that word disturbs you. You could tell them a personal story or even draw a parallel with other words that are offensive.

TIP 5 Gratitude

Only use this tip if you feel the person has taken the time to listen to you and empathized with your point of view. If you feel you’ve gotten through to this individual, thank them for their patience and understanding. This is the cherry on top of the education cupcake. Both parties walk away with a feeling of positivity and surety that the matter is closed. When we leave an encounter with such a positive ending, it encourages long-lasting changes in a person’s behavior.

We hope these tips come in handy when addressing these issues in the future. It’s crucial to open up a dialogue if you want to see things change for the better. If all goes well, you will have made a significant victory in the war of words in which both sides win.


The Truth about Medicaid in New Jersey

No Medicaid Cuts

As this article is being written, the Senate Republicans are drafting a bill behind closed doors that could repeal The Affordable Care Act and replace it with the American Healthcare Act. The bill, as it currently stands after being passed through the House, would convert the current Medicaid expansion into “block grants,” shifting program costs over to the states. This provision has the potential to dramatically

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Where Does Your NJ Candidate Stand on Disability Issues?

New Jersey Governor

The New Jersey gubernatorial race is in full swing and voting will take place this November 7th. We reached out to all the current candidates (as of May  12, 2017) to find out their stances on issues that are important to people with disabilities and special needs and their families, living in New Jersey. We wanted to share these statements with you, our readers, to ensure you know each candidate’s stance on the issues facing the disability community.

With the federal government proposing sweeping changes to public policies that could have a direct impact on state services for people with disabilities and special needs, it has never been more important to elect a strong leader for New Jersey. Easterseals has advocated for and provided services to people with disabilities and their families for nearly 100 years, helping them to live, learn, work, and play in their communities. That’s why we have gathered these statements for your careful review, as they will help you make an informed decision when entering the voting booth this November.

Click on the photos of your candidate to read the statement they provided. (DISCLAIMER: This does not represent every NJ gubernatorial candidate currently running, as not all gave statements in response to our call.)

Candidates are presented in alphabetical order as not to show any preferential treatment towards any one candidate.

Bill Brennan NJ Governor Candidate
Bill Brennan (D)

Jim Johnson governor candidate
Jim Johnson (D)
Raymond Lesniak Governor NJ
Raymond Lesniak (D)
Phil Murphy Governor Candidate
Phil Murphy (D)
Steven Rogers NJ governor candidate
Steven Rogers (R)
Joseph Rudy Rullo governor candidate
Joseph Rudy Rullo (R)
Hirsh Signh NJ Governor candidate
Hirsh Singh (R)
John Wisniewski governor candidate
John Wisniewski (D)

Mark Zinna governor candidate
Mark Zinna (D)


A Big Win for Students With Disabilities at the Supreme Court!

Supreme Court Building IEP

Our latest blog topic comes to us from Hinkle, Fingles, Prior, & Fischer, a Jersey-based law firm that represents people with disabilities and their families in the tri-state area. They detailed a landmark decision handed down by the Supreme Court that affects how Individual Education Plans (IEP’s) are deemed “appropriate.”

As IEP’s begin to be set, we want to make sure you stay up-to-date on all the important issues so you’re able to effectively advocate for your loved ones.

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How Much Do You Really Know Developmental Disability?

Developmental disability

A Time to Learn

DD awareness monthIn honor of Developmental Disability Awareness Month, we will be exploring what exactly “developmental disability” is. How is it defined? What challenges does it pose? And why do we have the term in the first place? This is the first part of our ongoing series of blog posts that will be diving a bit deeper on individual types and classifications of disabilities. We hope these posts will serve

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Tech & Disability: The Future of Access

Future of Access

The Future is Now!

Brain-Controlled_Prosthetic_ArmWithin the past few decades, technology has advanced to a point where science fiction has become science fact. From the internet to smartphones, we have seen a dramatic change in the way technology has affected our daily lives. This is perhaps most apparent when you look at the multitude of ways technology is helping increase accessibility options afforded to people with disabilities and special needs.

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Benefits of a Guardianship

Guardianship and family

In this post, Easterseals New Jersey has invited Margaret Spaziani, Esq. to speak about the benefits of becoming the guardian of an adult child with a disability. Ms. Spaziani is an attorney with the firm Giordano, Halleran, & Ciesla and an expert in these complicated legal matters. Guardianship can provide many protections

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