In 1987 President Ronald Reagan established the month of March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. That started a movement to move people with disabilities out of institutions and into the mainstream. It led to programs that help them become productive members of the American workforce. And led — three years later — to the Americans with Disabilities Act banning workplace discrimination. But there are still challenges. Community Access Unlimited Family Mentor Rebekah Novemsky told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that she likes to help with the cause, especially because her son has cerebral palsy.
“Well of course it’s my passion to help people with developmental disabilities because it’s so close to home,” said Novemsky. “My son — he’s not able to walk or talk — so we have those challenges but he still is able to communicate and you know be part of our community in many ways. So that is why I’m doing the work that I’m doing.”
According to Novemsky, it is important that families have a voice in coordinating care for children with developmental disabilities because they are the ones that understand what their children really need. She also said that the experts don’t necessarily know best because they don’t live with the children every day.
Since March is dedicated to developmental disabilities awareness, Novemsky said that that she would like people to know that those with developmental and intellectual disabilities are not a burden on society. She said that everyone has value that they bring to the community.
“They all have value that they bring to work place, school place, the community, houses of worship in so many ways,” Novemsky said.
Novemsky said that Community Access Unlimited helps people find their place in the community by helping them get jobs or volunteer opportunities. She also said that the group helps people continue with their education and advocate for themselves.
The organization faces some obstacles, according to Novemsky, including stereotypes, discrimination and fear of the unknown.
“There are people that don’t want to hire them. There are people that have fears because they don’t understand,” she said.
According to Novemsky, it is important to have recreational activities and social engagement for members because they need the same opportunities as everyone else, to be a part of their community.
“I keep saying communities because we are Community Access. So if they are able to participate and maybe meet somebody in their community, make that connection, have that natural support, it just adds to their lives,” Novemsky said.
Novemsky explained what the term self advocate refers to. “Self advocates are people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who advocate for themselves — talk to their representatives, talk to groups in schools, talk to families, advocate for themselves to make policy changes so their lives can be better in the ways they want to; not dictated by somebody else, these so-called experts,” she said.