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People who have severe disabilities have lived under centuries of legalized dependency and ostracism. With every law that showed the liberalizing of society’s commitment to disabled people has come the realization by disabled people that discrimination in the community didn’t really end. This discrimination continued because oppressive changes were introduced to limit society’s obligations and the few progressive changes that were introduced were never supported financially. It has become obvious that institutional prejudice shall not be overcome by good intentioned but uncoordinated and financially unsupported changes.


People with disabilities have a long history of forced dependency. King Henry VII in 1504 legally authorized the disabled to beg without fear of punishment. The English Poor Laws of 1601 mandated that the primary responsibility for care of disabled people was with their families. If the family couldn’t or wouldn’t provide adequate care, then a disabled person would go to live in an alms house. In the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, alms houses became very popular throughout the states for disabled people and the poor. People who had different disabilities were put in these institutions due to the lack of money and a generally custodial attitude by society. In most states there are still institutions for disabled people to live in, though there are often different buildings for people with different disabilities. The filthy and dehumanizing conditions of 250 years still exists in many of these modern institutions because of the same attitudes and lack of fiscal support.


Sterilization of criminals, people who are epileptic, or mentally ill, and the poor became popular around 1910 with the added alternative of life-long sexual segregation of people who were mentally and physically disabled in custodial institutions. By 1937, 28 states had laws allowing the sterilization of “defective” human beings in order to reduce the genetic possibility of more disabled people. Some cities passed ordinances which are still the law today, prohibiting the appearance in a public place by any person who is “diseased, maimed, mutilated or in any way deformed so as to be an unsightly, or disgusting object”. The Immigration and Naturalization Service can still deny a permanent visa to an immigrant or a member of their family who has a physical defect, disease or disability. People who are deaf, under old common law, could not be a witness, make a contract or a will, due to an assumption of incompetency. They still cannot serve on a jury in some states and cities.


With these centuries, even millennia of prejudice and oppression, society has made our dependency seemingly inescapable. Many disabled people, cannot work except in sheltered workshops at often less than the minimum wage. Many physically disabled people cannot travel on commercial transportation without submitting to patronizing assistance or inconveniencing regulations that vary from company to company. Many disabled people cannot live in their own homes because personal care attendants will only be paid for by society if they live segregated in institutions. There have been numerous cases of parents who are disabled, having their children taken from them because the child would not he raised in a normal environment. In divorce proceedings between a disabled and a non-disabled parent, custody has been awarded to the non-disabled parent based on this kind of prejudicial concept of normality.


People with disabilities, especially people who are mentally retarded are thought of as non-sexual because to recognize their sexuality is to recognize their common humanity, and therefore their human rights. People who are mentally retarded are, in many states, being legally sterilized by their parents with the help of courts empowered through legislation.


It is under this kind of basic denial of our human and civil rights that disabled people existed with little or nor services. What service that were provided were full of bureaucratic red tape and regulations that kept us dependent. There was no coordination of available services that would break through this vicious cycle of dependency. With this in mind, people with disabilities organized the Center for Independent Living in 1972: An organization that would protect the civil rights of disabled people, change the physical and attitudinal environment and enable us to live independently in an integrated community, by providing a whole range of services. The C.I.L. is not a residential facility where disabled people come to live and have all their needs taken care of. It is not a transitional facility where you can live until you have learned the skills necessary to live alone in the community. Neither of these two residential models affect more than a few disabled people and neither attempt to change the community so that disabled people can live independently if or when they leave a facility.


There are primarily two components of C.I.L. services and advocacy. The following listing of services represents over seven years of growth. Disabled people planned, prioritized and developed these services in coordination with other existing community services because only through a holistic approach to the daily living problems of disabled people can we be truly functional.


  • Intake and follow up counselors explain C.I.L. services, make appropriate referrals within C.I.L., and offer supplementary referrals to community resources.
  • Attendant referral counselors interview, screen, and refer prospective attendants to disabled and elderly people who need help with personal care and housekeeping needs.
  • The deaf services project is making all of C.I.L.’s services accessible to the multiply disabled, aged deaf, and the deaf community in general by coordinating interpreters for clients who have appointments at C.I.L., making necessary phone contacts and making referrals to appropriate agencies.
  • The housing department assists people in locating and securing accessible or suitable housing in the Berkeley-North Oakland area and provides consultation on leases, moving, ramp construction, and the Section 8 Rent Subsidy Program.
  • C.I.L.’s transportation service provides door-to-door accessible transportation to people who cannot use public transportation.
  • Services for visually disabled include: mobility instruction and orientation, peer counseling, transportation, reader referrals, independent living skills instruction, pre-vocational counseling, senior citizen support and resource center, talking book certification, and information and referral.
  • Peer counselors do individual, group, couple, and family counseling, assisting disabled individuals, their families, and mates in coping with the emotional aspects of disability.
  • Independent living skills counselors offer advice on home modifications and aids, and instruction in basic independent living skills – budgeting, nutrition, cooking, pre-vocational work evaluation/training.
  • Substance abuse counselors provide both prevention and treatment services for potential and actual substance abusers and their families.


  • The disability law resource center focuses on community involvement in the disabled rights movement by coordinating C.I.L.’s law-related advocacy, outreach and education projects:
  • The legal services unit provides direct legal counsel in the area of disability discrimination through funding from the Legal Services Corporation.
  • Public assistance advocates provide counseling, education, and representation to clients on local, state, and federal financial and medical programs.
  • The ombudsman unit does outreach and advocacy work with current and potential Department of Rehabilitation clients.
  • The community affairs department, utilizing the legislative process, works toward the removal of physical, economic and social barriers at the federal, state and local levels.
  • The regional support unit gives technical assistance and support to local organizations to further community understanding of the independent living concept.
  • The 504 project provides training and assistance on Federal Regulation 504, including community organizing and negotiating skills.
  • The rehabilitation services administration projects (RSA) is training Department of Rehabilitation personnel in disability rights.

Job development, training and education

  • The job development program assists disabled job seekers with employment goal identification, resumé writing, interview skills, and job search techniques. Job-ready clients are referred to listings, job orders, and employer contacts.
  • The computer training project trains people with severe disabilities in computer programming and places them in jobs in industry with the help of an advisory committee of representatives from major corporations.
  • The kids project is working with educators, parents, and children to develop a receptive environment for mainstreaming disabled elementary students into the public school

Business enterprises

  • The wheelchair repair shop services and modifies all major brand push and power wheelchairs, offers advice on purchase of wheelchairs and other orthopedic equipment, and sells wheelchair accessories.
  • C.I.L.’s machine and automotive shop modifies vans and automobiles, and installs hand controls, wheelchair lifts, ramps, and tie downs.

Research and evaluation

  • C.I.L.’s Wheelchair Design Project is developing power wheelchair prototypes with exceptional mobility and performance for eventual marketing.
  • The equipment evaluation project conducts product-testing, from the consumer’s viewpoint, on a wide range of rehabilitative equipment, and reports on results to the Veterans Administration.


Experienced staff members can provide consultation, on a sliding fee schedule, in the following areas: State and Federal Laws and Regulations Applying To: non-discrimination, affirmative action, and reasonable accommodation; Public assistance programs; architectural and transportation accessibility standards and specifications. Technical Assistance In: architectural barrier removal; job re-structuring program and services development; fund-raising; equipment design. Staff can also develop training workshops and classes in disability awareness, peer counseling and the above-listed areas.


Advocacy in the community, the state, even the country is necessary if the accumulated barriers, physical, attitudinal and legal are to be eliminated. C.I.L. has begun the task in many areas through consciousness raising and the passing of new laws that are enforceable and financially supported. Some accessible housing is starting to be constructed, but the law mandating accessible housing is not always enforced. Transportation systems are buying accessible buses but not in all cities and often not without a court fight. Sign Language Interpreters for the deaf are now being scheduled for some public meetings but almost always people who are deaf or hard of hearing are excluded from participation in their community activities. They are usually never considered when meetings are planned or held because of the assumption that people who are deaf aren’t capable of participating or contributing. Some T.V. networks are agreeing to caption some of their programs, but there isn’t agreement among the major networks on which technology to use. Disabled roles in movies and T.V. programs, are still portrayed by non-disabled actors/actresses. The reason given for this is that there can’t be found any experienced disabled performers. This is the same reasoning that justified white actors performing in black face. People who are mentally retarded are being de- institutionalized by legislative action but the communities don’t want them living in halfway houses next door. It seems some people are afraid property values might go down if there was a halfway house in their neighborhood, so zoning laws are passed against them.


The Center for Independent Living is actively trying to make changes around issues like these in our society. There are similar centers like C.I.L. throughout California. Michigan, Massachusetts and New York. Many other centers are being currently developed in states like Texas, Missouri, Washington, New York and Pennsylvania. More are in the process of being developed, especially with the passage of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1978 which authorized money for the development of similar centers. We have helped many disabled people who have asked for assistance in setting up centers committed to the same principles as C.I.L.


We know integration and independence in the community is possible for people who are severely disabled because through the Center for Independent Living and other centers like it, people with disabilities have found the power of unified action. We have begun to take control over our lives in this society. We have issued a challenge to the centuries of fear and prejudice by those who are temporarily able-bodied. We will not accept laws without teeth to enforce them or enough money to implement them. We don’t accept the cost of implementing our civil rights as a legitimate objection to our integration into society. We will not be hidden away in institutions anymore. We will not be second-class citizens, patronized by good-intentioned professionals.


We have found our power because we are your brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers. We are part of your future.

The state’s welfare reform program, WorkFirst NJ, emphasizes work as the first step toward building a new life and a brighter future. Our goal is to help people get off welfare, secure employment and become self-sufficient, through job training, education and work activities.


WFNJ provides temporary cash assistance and many other support services to families through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. A detailed description of the TANF Program is available in the New Jersey State Plan for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) FFY 2018-20 – (pdf)


New Jersey is one of only a few states that also provides cash benefits and support services to individuals and couples with no dependent children, through our General Assistance (GA) program.


Services under WFNJ are limited to five years. After that, clients may be eligible for the Supportive Assistance to Individuals and Families (SAIF) program.


Under the supervision of the NJ Division of Family Development (DFD), the 21 county welfare agencies administer the TANF program. These agencies also administer the WorkFirst NJ General Assistance (GA) program – which provides welfare services for individuals and couples without children -in most cases, although about one-third of New Jersey’s 566 municipalities maintain their own welfare offices to serve those clients. For more information, contact your County Welfare Agency or local welfare agency.


The state also provides financial assistance and services to people who cannot work, due to a disability or other reason. People who are disabled may qualify for the federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.

Families First Discovery Pass

The Families First Discovery Pass program provides families and individuals who receive benefits through SNAP, WFNJ, the Child Care Subsidy Program and/or WIC free or steeply discounted admission to museums, theaters, historic sites, cultural events and more across the state.


Discounts are available by showing your NJ Families First Card or your WIC Identification Folder.

Women’s basketball student-athlete Anna Camden and football student-athlete PJ Mustipher provided information on student-athlete activism and the social justice work of Intercollegiate Athletics, as well as its student-athletes, during the Board of Trustees Committee on Outreach, Development and Community Relations meeting on Nov. 12.


“I am so proud of our student-athletes and the tremendous social justice work they have participated in since the summer,” said Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Sandy Barbour. “The work of our women’s basketball and football programs is a great representation of the efforts by our Intercollegiate Athletics department. We have always supported our student-athletes using their voice and platform to push for positive change or supporting causes that are important to them.”


Camden spoke of the women’s basketball program’s ‘Ignite the Change’ initiative. She explained that in the program’s motto, PRIDE, the “R” stands for respect – treat others how they want to be treated. The women’s basketball team has committed to taking purposeful steps on the fifth of every month in honor of George Floyd, who wore #5 on his basketball team. Floyd, a Black man, died during a police arrest in Minneapolis in May 2020. The Ignite the Change activities have included a candle lighting, voter registration for the team, ordering “Black Lives Matter” wristbands and watching the documentary “13” and challenging others to do so. The women’s basketball program also engaged the women’s soccer team in meaningful conversation about the film.


Penn State Trustee Brandon Short, who chairs the Board of Trustees oversight group on racism, bias and community safety, commended Camden on her efforts and those of the women’s basketball team. “It takes brave people like yourself, and your leadership to get this done,” Short said. “When it comes from someone that’s a minority, it is typically discounted because it is difficult for people to understand. So voices like yours will make the difference, which is necessary to bring about change.”


Mustipher shared with the committee that the football team had numerous discussions throughout the summer and fall regarding social justice and were encouraged by Head Coach James Franklin to express themselves by using their voice and platform as student-athletes to initiate change. Mustipher also discussed his role on the Big Ten Anti-Hate and Anti-Racism Coalition and mentioned several teammates are on different boards and committees at the University and beyond to continue to bring awareness to current issues in society.


One of Mustipher’s strategies to bring about this awareness is to be more involved in the local community.


“As a Black football player, I want to be more involved with the community and people around State College,” Mustipher said. “We’re a diverse football team but when you walk out into the community, and you don’t have your shoulder pads and football helmet on, people don’t look at you the same. You’re just another Black guy when you’re out on the town. There is no relationship there … and I want that to change.”


Mustipher also shared that members of the Penn State football program discussed how they wanted to represent a social justice movement in competition and what that representation meant to them. Following those discussions, the football program rolled out the ‘Penn State United’ campaign. The team wears a uniform patch, helmet stickers and warmup shirts with a special social justice logo to promote unity for the 2020 football season.


The logo Penn State football student-athletes will wear in competition this year symbolizes their journey for unity. The goal of Penn State United is to construct a culture of respect, appreciation and empathy for all differences, according to the student-athletes. In a press release on the effort, members of the Penn State football program said they believe, more than ever, they can help create a better society by publicly and peacefully acknowledging the student-athletes pursuit to move beyond simply tolerating differences to recognizing these differences, which can enrich the Commonwealth.


The logo, which features the outline of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with diverse interlocking hands in Penn State’s signature blue and white color, was born out of a discussion with the football program’s leadership council. Social justice work continues to be a priority for all of Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics and as other programs begin competition, they will have the ability to adopt the Penn State United logo or introduce their own social justice initiatives.

State lawmakers want to help improve the financial literacy of residents in some of New Jersey’s most economically challenged cites. Their plan: Establish new “financial empowerment centers” that would offer coaching and other services to the community.


Legislation that passed a key Senate committee with bipartisan support earlier this month calls for the state to create a pilot program to establish financial empowerment centers in the cities of Camden, Newark and Paterson.


Under the proposed pilot, the Department of Community Affairs would partner with local officials and nonprofits to use the centers to offer forums, programs, financial coaching and other services. Officials would also be asked to track the results of their work with residents in economically vulnerable communities, who often don’t have access to basic financial services.

Profiting from a data breach

Funding for the pilot would come from the money New Jersey is receiving from a major settlement that was reached last year with credit-reporting firm Equifax to settle claims stemming from a 2017 data breach.


The legislation would also build on other efforts lawmakers have launched in recent years to improve financial literacy, including among New Jersey’s middle school and high school students. It is already drawing praise from leading advocates for New Jersey’s low-income residents, who say similar efforts have already helped hundreds of other people improve their personal balance sheets.


More than 100 million people across the country have been identified as “economically vulnerable” by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was founded in 2011 in the wake of the Great Recession. In New Jersey, Camden, Newark and Paterson all ranked among the state’s most distressed cities in a 2017 analysis published by the DCA. In fact, Camden was ranked as the state’s most distressed city in that analysis, which considered factors like the rates of poverty and unemployment, and overall per-capita income.


To help address concerns about poverty and income inequality, including in communities of color, experts generally point to improving financial literacy skills as one of several key goals. Removing obstacles to basic financial services is another.

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Location, location, location

The legislation that was approved earlier this month by the Senate Commerce Committee calls for “financial empowerment centers” to be established where they would be “easily accessible to the residents” of the three communities chosen to participate in the pilot.


Those who visit the centers would receive instruction on opening an affordable bank account, establishing a good credit score and improving their personal savings, according to the legislation. Instructors would also help residents learn about ways to reduce their household debt, the bill says.


The pilot program would operate for three years, and a report detailing its operations and success would have to be submitted to the governor and Legislature for review. The report would also make recommendations about continuing the program and expanding it to more communities.


Paula Mirk from New Jersey Citizen Action, a nonprofit group that provides services to the state’s low-income residents, including tax-preparation assistance in Newark, said financial coaching “can make a difference” for residents of the state’s vulnerable communities.


“We’ve helped hundreds of individuals increase savings, cashflow, credit scores, and to decrease debt,” said Mirk, the NJCA education fund’s director of financial coaching.


“The need for financial empowerment is real,” Mirk said during testimony before the Senate committee. “New Jersey families need this help now.”


The current draft of the bill calls for funding for the proposed pilot program to come from any monies that are received by the state as a result of last year’s settlement of complaints lodged against Equifax following the September 2017 data breach that affected more than 147 million Americans, including 4 million New Jersey residents.


According to the state attorney general’s office, which helped lead investigations into the data breach, Equifax failed to establish an adequate security program despite knowing about a “critical vulnerability” that exposed highly sensitive personal information, including names, dates of birth, addresses, and Social Security and credit card numbers. Four members of the Chinese military were charged earlier this month by the U.S. Department of Justice with carrying out a cyberattack on Equifax’s networks.


New Jersey is receiving $6.36 million in civil penalties from Equifax as part of a broader, $600 million settlement, the attorney general’s office announced last summer.