ELIZABETH – Community Access Unlimited (CAU), on behalf of its members with disabilities who live throughout Union County, applauded the recent signing of Rosa’s Law by President Obama, officially eliminating the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” from federal education, health and labor laws and replacing them with the term “intellectual disability,” according to Sid Blanchard, CAU executive director.
Blanchard also noted that enactment of the law comes during National Disabilities Employment Awareness Month, which was established by Congress to recognize the contributions of people with disabilities to society and the workforce, and to educate the public and employers about issues relating to disabilities and employment.
“This is an historic step for our nation,” Blanchard said. “Too long people with disabilities have endured a label that is both disrespectful and antithetical of their daily achievements and the contributions they make to society. Every day our members overcome their disabilities to live independent and productive lives, including living in apartments or homes they own, commuting and traveling and practicing consumerism.
“In addition, many of our members are employed, some for many years by the same company. They are valued employees who help make their businesses stronger. They pay taxes, shop and contribute to the local economy. These are people whose lives are flourishing and it is fitting that as a nation we no longer apply a label to them that is counter-reflective of that.”
CAU member John Hargrove has worked at Standard Nipple Works, Inc. in Garwood as a machine operator since 1987. Hargrove is methodical with his paycheck, putting $200 into savings each week and using the rest to pays bills and shop.
Employment also enabled Hargrove to become a homeowner. He took classes at CAU to learn about setting goals, saving money and credit-worthiness and then purchased the condo in which he was living three years ago.
“Nobody is going to do it but yourself,” he said. “If people want to learn how to maintain their goals and have their own apartment, it is for them to ask someone to teach them. You don’t have to say I can’t do it.”
Mark Bloom, another CAU member, is committed to helping other members and people with disabilities in general also to recognize they do not have to say they can’t do it. Bloom is first vice president of the agency’s Helping Hands Self-Advocacy Group, which advocates for the rights of people with disabilities at the local, state and federal level. He also is involved with the agency’s Jump Start Self-Advocacy consulting business, which works with self-advocates, service providers and the community at-large to be sure they are well versed in the needs, desires and civil rights of people with disabilities.
Bloom holds workshops for members to teach them how to speak up for their rights and recently traveled to a self-advocacy conference in New Orleans to give a presentation. He also helps interview prospective new hires for CAU to ensure they are sensitive to the needs of people with disabilities.
“We talk about the R-word and self-advocacy so when they get the job they know about the members,” he said.
Rosa’s law was named for Rosa Marcellino, who has Down syndrome. Rosa’s mother, Nina Marcellino, successfully fought to have Maryland state law terminology changed after Rosa was labeled retarded at school. Her cause was taken to the federal level by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.).
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