Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Special-Needs Issues Expand in Complexity

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Special-Needs Issues Expand in Complexity

Article excerpt

In some Bergen County towns, access is viewed solely as the need for curb cuts and wheelchair ramps.

But as the population of adults with special-needs increases in coming years, so too will the number and scope of issues that towns face, advocates said Saturday in the county's first-ever Access for All summit.

Chief among those challenges will be creating more housing and transportation options. But it is also critical to build accessible playgrounds, to clear away employment hurdles for adults with disabilities and to train law enforcement and other responders how to be more sensitive to those with special needs.

Those were some of the topics broached by the nearly three dozen state and county officials, municipal leaders and community activists who attending the Saturday morning gathering. A key concern of most was how towns will be able to serve those with special needs once they turn 21 and leave school-based support programs.

Of special interest is the growing number of children being diagnosed with autism -- an estimated 1 in 49 in New Jersey -- who are already a challenge to school officials.

Jim Thebery, director of the county's division on disability services, pointed out that 80 percent of those with autism in New Jersey are younger than 21.

"There's going to be a tsunami of people with disabilities out in the community and needing services," Thebery said

In recent years, some towns have begun to tackle the shortage of housing for the disabled by seeking to use money from their affordable-housing trust funds to build housing developments in partnership with Bergen County's United Way.

Tom Toronto, president of the county's United Way chapter, applauded that after years of towns' resisting such developments, there has been an "extraordinary tipping point."

"Mayors and councils are no longer asking us why they should do these housing developments," Toronto said. "They are asking us how they can do these housing developments."

This summer, however, the Christie administration moved to seize those unused funds from communities that had yet to finalize such plans. …

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