Disability Awareness Day: October 10, 2019

I have been appointed to the Salem County Freeholders Advisory Board for almost 20 years and my involvement with the Office on Aging and Disabilities is best characterized by my participation in our annual Disability Awareness Day. This was our 15th Disability Awareness Day and they seem to get better and better each year. The hard work by staff of the Office on Aging and Disabilities and its Advisory Board really has nurtured a great event.

About five years ago I suggested that we model an award that Wilmington Delaware’s Access Wilmington has to celebrate the contributions that citizens, agencies and businesses have made to improve the lives of our disabled population. As a long term member of that board, these awards highlighted great works that benefited the disabled population, but had the effect of improving the lives of all citizens in general. Patty Bomba typifies the values of this award as this year’s award recipient and will continue to add value to our county. If you know of individuals that should be considered for this award, contact me or call the office at 856-339-8622. Also, the office staff wants our residents to contact the office to answer your specific questions based on individual needs.

As I was walking around the vendor tables, I had a chance to talk Teri Figarola and Mary Fowle (in the picture above) and they made sure that I was aware of how they were able to attend: they called the Office on Aging and Disabilities at at 856-339-8622 and were able to obtain transportation.

There a lot of informational tables to get hand-outs about different organizations and services. This was also a great opportunity to ask specific questions and get answers that meet your individual needs. I have posted pictures of a sample of these vendors below.

More pictures are available on my Facebook page (Frank Hentz). My next post will be about Emergency “Go Bags” that was discussed and demonstrated by Frank Callahan of the Salem County Department of Health and Human Services Public Preparedness Division. The final post will focus on the keynote speaker James Beardsley, blogger, advocate for persons with different abilities and hand cycle racer.

Salem County’s 15th Annual Disability Awareness Day.

What a wonderful day to celebrate the selection of Patty Bomba as the Crusader Award winner for 2019. Patty Bomba, of Carneys Point, has touched many lives through her advocacy for individuals with disabilities. She spearheaded the creation of A Place for Sami (an accessible playground built by the community that benefits anyone with mobility issues) including her granddaughter, Sami. Patty currently serves on the board of Resources for Independent Living, is a past chairperson of the Salem County Disabilities Advisory Board and she is active in fundraising for the ARC Walk, Special Olympics, Resources for Independent Living and Darryl’s Wheels.

Patty Bomba with her Crusader Award and her State of New Jersey Resolution

Patty with Assemblymen John Burzichelli and Adam Taliaferro

Patty receiving her Crusader Award from Salem County Freeholders Ben Laury, Lee Ware and Charles Hassler.

If you want to see more pictures of Patty’s day look at my Facebook post. Tomorrow: pictures of participants, vendors and our citizens

New School Year: Is Your Child’s IEP Working?

The new school year has started and we are about half way through the first marking period. If your school has on-line grades, you should be checking your child’s assignments, quiz and test grades. The teachers usually have an on-line web site that lists upcoming assignments and information that will allow you to contact your child’s teachers. Keeping current with homework assignments and checking the on-line grades and completed assignments will give you a good idea on how things are going. You should have a copy of your child’s IEP and you should be having a conversation with your child about how the teachers are implementing the accommodations listed in the IEP.

While I believe everything that I said above is a great strategy, keeping track of everything and trying to get information from our children can be difficult and quite time consuming. If you are not comfortable with technology, then everything gets even more difficult. So, what should you do?

The more a parent understands what the teachers are trying to accomplish, what accommodations were written in the IEP, and how successful your child is and what problems your child is experiencing, the better the outcomes will be achieved. However, if your child is getting A’s in their classes, but the scope and pace of the classes does not match the regular education curriculum and state tests indicate that your child is not proficient in the areas tested, I think that a parent needs to ask “what is the impact on my child in terms of career planning?” This is really important as children get into middle school and start planning for and applying for high school programs.

As your school transitions 8th grade IEP’s into a high school IEP, there should be career planning discussions. I strongly believe that parents should start talking to their children about career plans by the time they are in fifth grade. Students are now applying for specific high school programs during 8th grade and the programs they are applying for often use grades, test scores and attendance results from seventh grade. Therefore, it works best when there is an opportunity to spend a significant amount of time in career exploration. Children will change their mind as they get more information and process what is involved in preparing for various careers. If the schools aren’t doing this, it is really important that parents make the time to do this. In addition, if parents are honest about their child’s skills and interests, they have the most knowledge about their children.

The programs I am talking about may be STEM programs, performance arts programs, vocational programs and etc. (you need to talk to your child’s guidance counselor about what is available and the requirements for admission. The key element to keep in mind is that not everyone gets in and most programs use a rubric that depends heavily on academic proficiency and state test results. Parents need to make an honest assessment of their child’s strengths and weaknesses. I have mentioned in a previous blog that I have more than 25 years in corporate america and most of it in Human Resources. In that time I interviewed thousands of applicants and counseled employees about their career plans. The applicants that were hired, and the employees that were promoted in their careers, demonstrated a clearly communicated career plan and backed this up with related skills and appropriate experience. Those that didn’t weren’t hired.

Career choices begin much earlier than just ten years ago. As a middle school counselor in Gloucester County, NJ, I watched the county vocational school evolve into a program that used an high school curriculum to assist students in improving their chances of entering a career in the medical, engineering, business and computer fields. These became the featured programs that attracted the top students from all of the eight grade programs in the county and the number of vocational training slots were decreased. The number of spots for students with IEP’s also disappeared.

The high schools in our county responded by developing STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math)  programs to retain their top students. The goal of most public high schools is to provide academic programs to prepare students for college, Most of the shops and home economic programs have been eliminated. The picture I am painting is one that does very little to assist students with IEP’s develop a viable career unless they fit into the all students should go to college mold.

Students in Gloucester County, NJ are applying for these top programs during 8th grade for programs that will start in high school. Since their attendance, grades, type and level of classes and state test scores from 7th grade (along with 1st marking period 8th grade results and possibly 6th grade results) are used as selection criteria, the need for early career planning is clearly necessary. What is the plan for students that are not competitive in this process? When should career planning start for those students? What is the role of the IEP in career planning?

The above comments and assertions require a great deal of additional information and planning. Please, start to think about career planning with your children and include them in the discussion as early as you believe that they can participate.

Career Transition Programs

If you have a child that is 14 and older and has an IEP, have they been included in the actual IEP meeting? Has your school’s IEP team taken the time to explore career ideas with your child and developed preliminary career plans? Are there specific vocational programs available for your child to apply for and are you aware of the application process and time frames? Has the New Jersey Department of Vocational Rehabilitation been involved in your child’s career transition program?

I asked a lot of questions, but if someone is not asking these questions and you and your child are not involved in a career transition process, what are the chances that your child will develop a career plan that will lead to active employment? Resources for Independent Living (RIL) offer a Self-Advocacy Program to any interested schools in Burlington and Salem Counties. It is designed to prepare students and young adults with disabilities aged 14-21 for their transition from the school setting to adult life. Through activities and discussions focused on self-awareness, self-advocacy, knowledge of disabilities, leadership development, employment skills, goal setting, and future planning, RIL’s (rilnj.org) transition specialist can assist in developing students that are more cognizant of their responsibilities in their transition process.

This free service is available to groups of students or individuals in your school, but your school needs to approve this program. Ask your school if they have a program like this. Specifically, a Youth Transition Specialist, comes to the school to run these activities during a class period or in about 45-60 minute sessions. The program can function on an ongoing basis or in a delineated six week module.

IEP’s And Career Planning

I was going to go right into how our school transitioned 8th grade IEP’s into a high school IEP, but thought it might be a good idea to talk about career planning. I have mentioned that I have more than 25 years in corporate america and most of it in Human Resources. In that time I interviewed thousands of applicants and counseled employees about their career plans. The applicants that were hired, and the employees that were promoted in their careers, demonstrated a clearly communicated career plan and backed this up with related skills and appropriate experience. Those that didn’t weren’t hired.

Parents can help this process by honestly making an assessment of their child’s strengths and weaknesses and by taking the time to research requirements for individual careers. I wanted to build houses, had knowledge, skill and experience (thanks to my father, grandfather and uncles), but my father pushed me into college. It wasn’t that he thought that building houses was a bad choice, but my father thought that a college education would provide me with more opportunities. Although things worked out very well for me, it would have been great if someone would have taken the time to talk to me about why I wanted to build houses and also learn that I liked to draw plans for houses. Perhaps suggesting a career in architecture might have been a great suggestion.

In the 7th grade and 8th grade IEP meetings with the mother of one of my former students, she told us that her son was going to become a lawyer. When we discussed his strengths and weaknesses and selected appropriate classes, she was oblivious of the fact that he was reading below a third grade level. Reading and writing were on-going problems throughout elementary school and his state test scores always showed a pattern of extremely low English / Language Arts scores and very strong Math skills.

When I pointed out this information and explained that lawyers need strong skills in reading and writing, she accused me of trying to destroy his dreams. Since I met with all of my students and discussed their career plans, I knew that he wasn’t interested in becoming a lawyer. The point I am making is that parents need to be realistic about their child’s interests, knowledge and skills.

Career choices begin much earlier than just ten years ago. As a middle school counselor in Gloucester County, NJ, I watched the county vocational school evolve into a program that used an high school curriculum to assist students in improving their chances of entering a career in the medical, engineering, business and computer fields. These became the featured programs that attracted the top students from all of the eight grade programs in the county and the number of vocational training slots were decreased. The number of spots for students with IEP’s also disappeared.

The high schools in our county responded by developing STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math)  programs to retain their top students. The goal of most public high schools is to provide academic programs to prepare students for college, Most of the shops and home economic programs have been eliminated. The picture I am painting is one that does very little to assist students with IEP’s develop a viable career unless they fit into the all students should go to college mold.

Students in Gloucester County, NJ are applying for these top programs during 8th grade for programs that will start in high school. Since their attendance, grades, type and level of classes and state test scores from 7th grade (along with 1st marking period 8th grade results and possibly 6th grade results) are used as selection criteria, the need for early career planning is clearly necessary. What is the plan for students that are not competitive in this process? When should career planning start for those students? What is the role of the IEP in career planning?

The above comments and assertions require a great deal of additional information and planning. Rather than going into this with this blog, I am going back to my plan of 8th grade IEP transitions and progress from there. But please, start to think about career planning with your children and include them in the discussion as early as you believe that they can participate.

“HABITAT FOR SAFE SENIOR FREE RAMP” PROGRAM

The ramp Bills are at it again. Another ramp in Alloway, NJ. Thank you Habitat and Bill Kleinegger and Bill Nelson.

Program Description

Provides free handicapped ramps for disabled seniors especially for low income and fixed income seniors.

Free wheelchair ramps are built with the help of volunteers.

Before a wheelchair ramp can be built a site visit is made by the “Habitat for Safe Seniors Free Ramp” Program to assess the senior’s home environment and detailed need for injury and fall prevention.

The “Habitat for Safe Seniors Free Ramp” Program also estimates the financial cost of material, labor, and equipment required to install the free ramp. 

After the free wheelchair ramp is installed it allows seniors to live more independently in their own home and can prevent accidents and falls thereby helping elderly to maintain a higher quality of life for a longer period of time.

Ramps are crucial for elderly home safety so that in the case of emergency elderly are able to exit the home quickly and safely.

Some of the reported benefits of free ramps installed for the elderly include: 

-Seniors taking more trips to get medical care such as doctor’s visits and dialysis treatments
-Seniors having increased mobility and more choice in daily activities
-Seniors reconnecting with their friends and communities
-Seniors accessing social service programs
-Seniors being supported to age in place and stay in their own communities rather than having to make a decision of moving into costly assisted living facilities
-Ramps are crucial in the case of emergencies so that elderly and emergency  personnel are able to enter and exit the home quickly and safely

The “Habitat for Safe Seniors Free Ramp” Program falls under the “Home Safety and Repair” Program which provides:

Free home repair assistance for seniors such as adding a step, fixing a handrail, stabilizing loose banisters, and replacing rotted landings, plumbing repairs and more.

In addition to proving free ramps and home modifications the “Habitat for Safe Seniors” organization also hosts the following elderly nutrition programs:

Elderly Nutrition and Food Delivery Program which delivers perishable and non-perishable food to seniors through volunteer deliveries.
-Emergency Food Pantry which provides food for seniors in need.
source:habitatforsafeseniors.com

MORE WHEELCHAIR RAMP AND HOME MODIFICIATION PROGRAMS:

Habitat for Humanity Critical Home Repair Program – Across the USA. Habitat for Humanity provides subsidized critical home repairs and modifications for seniors to allow them to age in place and for those with disability or low income circumstances. A “Brush with Kindness” Program for exterior home beautification and the “Repair Corps for Veterans” Program is also featured.

Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) – Across the USA. Federal program providing weatherization assistance to homeowners with the result of lower energy bills and energy use. US Department of Energy.

How to Build Wheelchair Ramps for Homes Program – Available online.
A manual, DVD video and specifications on how to design and build wheelchair ramps for senior and the handicapped.

Rebuilding Together Safe at Home Modification and Repair Program – Across the USA.Provides critical free home repairs, home modifications and home improvements for low-income seniors, adults and family homeowners.

Certified Aging in Place Specialist Program
 – Across the USA. Seniors who plan to stay in their homes as they age can call on a team of trusted aging in place specialists in construction, architecture, and interior design who are available to provide seniors with needed aging-in-place home modifications such as ramps to ensure ease of mobility and elderly home safety.

National Directory of Home Modification Repair Resources Program – Across the USA. A directory put together by the National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modification of hundreds of home modification contractors and assistance with repair resources.

ElderProofHome.com Gift Card Program – Available online. Gift card for seniors to make home repairs and modifications that they may need, but may be hesitant to pay for by themselves. Home modification and repair safety improvements may be made such as: bathroom bars, safety rails, wheelchair ramps, threshold ramps, walkers, motion sensors, security locks, powered chairs, lift Seats, motion sensor stair lights and much more.

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IEP’s & Back to School

Last night I attended my youngest grandson’s open house at his elementary school. That, combined with my recent retirement, and the fact that I will not be going back to start a new school year, has me thinking about what I would be doing. I was very fortunate to be able to retire and still enjoy my position as a guidance counselor. A wonderful way to end a career.

If I was going back to school as a guidance counselor, I would be reviewing the IEP’s and 504 plans of our new students. As a counselor in a 7th & 8th grade middle school, we had to transition the elementary students into a middle school environment and prepare our 8th grade students for their transition to high school. If you are a parent of either group, I hope you will take the time to review your child’s IEP and plan to meet with their teachers after they have had enough time to determine how accurate their IEP or 504 plan is  in the new setting.

In general, elementary students transitioning to a middle school environment will be expected to become more independent and the plans created in an elementary school setting may provide more support than is usually necessary at the next level. Middle school usually has more scheduling options and may allow placement options, based on the skill level in specific subjects, that range from advanced to those that are modified to accommodate specific learning or behavioral disabilities. Schools vary so it is important to ask specific questions about the classes and curriculum available.

Our school was able to create a master schedule that allowed the guidance counselor and the child study team to meet, when necessary during the year, and adjust schedules by moving specific subjects to the appropriate level without changing the entire schedule. This gave our team the ability to focus on a specific skill and the individual needs of a specific student and make minimal changes in their overall schedule. Our school was fortunate to make scheduling a priority and the master schedule was reviewed on an on-going basis to make improvements.

I also think it is important for parents to realize the specific requirements of each class; i.e., the specific accommodations made to the regular education curriculum; the pace of the individual class; and the amount of support provided by the teacher and or aide. For example, students with IEP’s that are not successful in the initial placement may be moved to a class that has made accommodations to the curriculum, pace and the amount of support provided. All of these accommodations may result in grades that rise significantly. I encourage parents to discuss the amount of accommodations made, how much the pace has changed in the new class, and how much additional support was required to obtain this higher level of success.

Honor roll grades in the new classes does not mean that the student is ready to move to a regular education classes without support or accommodations. The accommodations made in curriculum, pace and support may be the specific reason for the rise in grades. Ask specific questions about what would be required for the student to be successful at the next level rather than just insist that the student should move up because their grades have improved dramatically.

My next blog will focus on the transition to the high school environment and why a focus on potential careers becomes very important. In many states, students are applying to specific programs (STEM and vocational) that require an application in 8th grade. Grades, specific classes and their levels, state test scores and attendance levels form a rubric to determine admission. I believe that it is very important to start discussing careers with students long before they reach middle school.

September 2019 News Items

Looking forward to September 2019 and beyond:

Nominations for the 2019 Crusader Awards are due on 9/6/2019 to the Salem County Office on Aging and Disabilities, 110  Fifth Street, Suite 900, Salem, New Jersey 08079. We are looking for nominations of individuals that have had a positive impact on the lives of persons with disabilities within Salem County or disabled individuals that demonstrate a positive role model for others with a disability.

Our next meeting scheduled for Tuesday, September 10, 2019 at 4:30 pm.

Reason for a celebration:

Coach Lee Ware made a presentation from the Freeholder Board honoring Debbie Behnke for her years of service to the community. Debbie Behnke was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by Resources For Independent Living at the annual Autism Dinner Sat night. 3rd District Sen Steve Sweeney, Assemblyman John Burzichelli, Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro, 24th District Sen Steve Oroho, & Congressman Jeff VanDrew also provided resolutions.

 

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