Paving the Way for Inclusion in Community Engagement
Hope Carter / NJ Association of Community Providers
July 25, 2023
Mike J., a client of JESPY House, recently became a member of the Pedestrian Walk Subcommittee. Mike has always been interested in politics since he was a child and wanted to support his community of South Orange in some way, so when the opportunity to join the Pedestrian Walk Subcommittee was brought up to him, it was an easy yes.
Mike, who identifies as a person with a disability, has a gift for public speaking. As a person from the disability community, it is important for him to be a representative of his community in the subcommittee. Mike has seen that people can often stigmatize the disability community, and he hopes that his presence on the subcommittee will provide more exposure to the public and decrease the stigma in South Orange. Mike understands that there is a big portion of his community who struggle with communication. With his new position and his gift for public speaking, he will be able to give a voice to people who struggle to have one.
When Mike was younger, he would often isolate himself. As a child, your present situation often seems permanent, as if the feelings of isolation and loneliness will go on forever. Most of us realize when we are older that those feelings don’t last forever, and we find our community in the world. Mike found his community by joining and participating in disability groups and activities like JESPY House.
Mike has experience using the pedestrian walkways in South Orange, and he’s looking out for the entire community. With Cerebral Palsy on the right side of Mike’s body, mobility has always been a challenge. As a new member of the Pedestrian Walk Subcommittee, Mike has more insight than an able-bodied person who may not recognize the challenges that someone with a mobility disability has getting around South Orange.
An area for improvement that Mike has seen so far is the amount of ice on the sidewalks during the winter season. He would like to see more assistance for bus and train riders who at times become flustered in a new environment. Transportation can be overwhelming when you are traveling far, somewhere new, or if the weather is bad.
In the next year, Mike plans to become more known throughout the community. Mike wants people to be aware that there are very smart individuals in the JESPY House community. It’s not logical to stigmatize the disability community. Mike believes that exposure to people in his community of South Orange will create inclusivity and hopefully break the stigma of people with disabilities as “low functioning.” Mike would like to get more people in the disability community of South Orange involved in community participation.
If Mike could give advice to his younger self, it would be, “everything in the future will work out.” Mike’s advice for people in the disability community who are interested in getting involved in politics and community engagement is “Start small, and you’ll go far. It’s important to realize that people with disabilities do not give up. They thrive in different ways, and their resilience should be noticed by the able-bodied community.”
Congratulations, Mike! We look forward to your future accomplishments.