During these past 16 months of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic we have become very conscious of milestones and anniversaries. The country is currently inching toward the 70% mark for vaccinations by making them available at many convenient locations. The hipstaff continues to help consumers make informed decisions about the vaccine and collaborating with our state and county partners.
July 13 marks the first anniversary of our partial return to the office. We worked remotely from the beginning of the shutdown but as restrictions began to be lifted, we had the office deep cleaned, sanitized and outfitted with plexiglass shields to maintain appropriate social distancing. All of us are well equipped with PPE and various cleaning supplies for our individual use. We have developed a schedule where we split the staff into two shifts working two days in the office and two days remotely with Friday as a clean-up and meeting day. We are still not seeing people in the office or making home visits, but we are doing our best to stay in contact with all of the consumers. We have established dedicated hot lines in both offices. Our current plan is to continue with our split sessions until the end of August and gradually increase office time through September with a full opening October 1.
I cannot discuss dates without commemorating the 31st Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26. We have come a long way by promoting universal design, enhancing equity in public education and continuing our advocacy for equality in all areas of the American experience.
For the future we need to remain aware of the importance of this legislation and to be sure that its intent remains prominent in the conversations on inclusion, equal rights and diversity.
As I was waiting in line for my COVID vaccine I started to recall the many times I have been involved in what they are calling mass immunizations. As a first grader we were all herded to the school nurse’s office where the challenge was not to cry at the sight of what seemed to be a very big scary needle for the Salk Polio vaccine. Things got a little bit easier when the Sabin vaccine came along. We received that one on a sugar cube on a Sunday in our Church hall. In 1976 when flu shots came into prominence, I recall gathering in the Hackensack High School gym to roll up our sleeves and start what would become an annual event for many people but later done individually at the Doctor’s office or a Pharmacy.
So, here we are on the anniversary of the shutdown on a different kind of line called online, struggling to navigate websites, seeking out vaccine leftovers at the Shop-Rite and happily responding to the text that tells you it is your turn.
As I look back on the year, I am proud of the work of the hip staffers who arranged food deliveries, distributed PPEs, and supermarket gift cards, purchased I-pads, Chrome books and microwaves, helped with rental assistance and utility bills all while continuing to serve our consumers in our traditional programs. Our work is still done remotely but we are looking forward to safely meeting in person when everyone is vaccinated.
We are in the final six months of our CARES Act funding and we still have the ability to provide services to remediate difficulties that arose due to the pandemic. Please contact us so we can see how we can help.
Enjoy all the new beginnings that come with Spring. Stay safe and be well.
In my town we’ve just completed a Municipal election to fill three seats on the Council. In the spirit of social distancing It was determined that the election be conducted completely by mail-in ballots. I thought that this would be a simple process especially because I was sure of my candidate selections and the instructions were clear.
All of that seemed great until I was required to fill in a bubble next to my choices and then print my name and address in three sections with signatures. I usually consider my shaky signature as a minor inconvenience for which I have made several accommodations but without a poll worker to witness my signing I wondered if my vote would be valid.
During the next several months we will be advocating for the electronically accessible format mentioned in the article (The Record; May 17, 2020) by Disability Rights New Jersey’s Director of Policy, Mary Ciccone.
Accessibility matters when it comes to voting | Mary Ciccone
The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally altered when and how we vote in New Jersey. To reconcile public health and safety with the public’s right to vote, on March 9, 2020, Governor Murphy’s Executive Order 105 postponed certain elections to May 12 and made those exclusively vote-by-mail. Although vote-by-mail has long been an option for New Jersey residents, for people with certain disabilities — those with vision or dexterity limitations, for example — voting-by-mail presents barriers that prevent them from voting secretly and independently.
According to the American Association of People with Disabilities, in 2018, only 40% of eligible individuals with disabilities voted, and many individuals cited existing barriers as a reason to not vote. Lack of accessibility will only make it more difficult for individuals with disabilities to vote.
Accessible vote-by-mail ballots exist, however. Where accessible voting is an option, a voter with a disability can request a ballot to be sent electronically, auto mark it and return it electronically, all without barriers or the need for assistance. The right to vote is impeded only when these ballots are not made available. Why hasn’t New Jersey adopted this practice for all elections? Some argue that permitting people with disabilities to vote electronically would make our election system less secure.
To the contrary, however, New Jersey residents serving overseas in the military are permitted to receive and send their ballots electronically and have been doing so for many years without incident. Other states such as Colorado and Maryland are already using this technology to ensure that individuals with disabilities have equal access to the vote-by-mail ballot, a requirement for state and local governments under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Moreover, paper ballots that can be stolen or lost in the mail are no more or less secure.
Tracy Carcione, a voter with a visual impairment, was concerned about her ability to vote when Gov. Murphy postponed her town’s municipal elections to May 12 and ordered them to be conducted entirely by vote-by-mail. She lives alone and was not sure how she would be able to fill out the paper ballot. She contacted the county clerk and they advised her that — for this election only — she could request an accessible ballot that would be sent to her electronically and could then be returned electronically. She received the ballot, completed it with ease and returned it. Because of this system, she was able to cast her vote.
It is time for New Jersey to adopt this practice for all elections. For individuals with disabilities, the most fundamental constitutional right — the right to vote — requires it.
Mary Ciccone is the Director of Policy for Disability Rights New Jersey
There is no question that this entire COVID-19 response is like nothing we’ve ever experienced. We’ve been suddenly faced with curfews, closures, product shortages and constantly breaking news updating us on the status of the spread of the virus. As I write this from my Teaneck home on Day 4 of our voluntary town-wide quarantine I thought that it would be a good time to bring you up to date about hip.
Both our Bergen and Hudson locations are closed to the public but we are all working remotely. We have been instructed to suspend all in-person interviews and meetings but our DDD Support Coordinators are keeping up with their consumers who need alternate programs and our Care Managers are in contact with the Human Services personnel in both counties to be sure that people with disabilities have what they need. While it’s difficult to conduct business from a laptop or telephone our staff has risen to the occasion and is doing a great job.
I am disappointed to report that our 40TH Anniversary Gala scheduled for May 1 must be postponed based on the state’s guidelines prohibiting large gatherings. We’ve been in contact with our guest, Eric LeGrand’s management team and they have agreed to work with us on a new date. Perennial DJ Gary Morton has also agreed to offer his talents to us “one more time”. We are very excited about dinner at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel, our traditional gift basket tricky tray and a unique game offering many chances to win a wide range of prizes. As a matter of fact we’ve already collected over 50 prizes!
We will keep you informed about this and other happenings at hip on this website and on our Facebook page. If you need to contact anyone please call and leave a message to the specific person and we’ll get back to you ASAP. In the meantime, maintain safe distances, follow all of the advice from the CDC and stay safe. We will get through this.
From left to right: Mary, Joan Bob, Patty, hip’s Trish and Martha.
These last several weeks leading up to the end of the year have been very active for us at hip. We’re racing deadlines for reports, grant applications and program reviews while hosting meetings and arranging special events. Add the shortened holiday shopping season due to a late Thanksgiving and it can be a recipe for stress.
Well, any stress that we’ve been feeling at hip was wiped away on the morning of December 18 when our friends from St. Peter the Apostle Church in River Edge appeared with four carloads of gifts. Each year they consult with our Independent Living Specialists and ask them to collect wish lists from consumers and their families who may not be able to have gifts for the holidays. They have certainly outdone themselves this year lining our entire office space with bags stuffed with beautifully wrapped presents. All the shopping bags are grouped by number for our own Hudson hip elves to arrive and spend the day distributing the gifts and spending time with the families.
Earlier in December the agency participated in the Bergen County Volunteer Center’s “All Wrapped Up” program and our Bergen staff delivered gifts to folks in their caseloads.
It’s a great hip tradition that has been coordinated by VP/CFO Trish Carney since it started, and it continues to grow.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the many generous people who contribute to making the Holiday season merry and bright and to all of you who make hip a great place to work.
By now many of you have heard that hip’s beloved founder and former President/CEO Eileen Goff passed away on August 3, 2019. The opening paragraph of her obituary stated that she was a woman of remarkable warmth, generosity, dignity and accomplishment. The funeral service was a wonderful tribute to her with the chapel filled with family, friends and local dignitaries all recounting how Eileen touched their lives in so many positive ways.
I first met Eileen when I was working as a Rehabilitation Counselor and we went for a visit to see this new program called Independent Living run out of Englewood. I was not only happy to see this new service starting in the community but I was totally impressed by this dynamic woman who was filled with ideas on how to reach a forgotten segment of society; people with disabilities.
Over the years we spent time together at many statewide events, seminars and meetings and she was always the person you’d want to sit with because she asked the best and most challenging questions. She also had great stories about her travels and escapades on the slopes and hiking trails.
Though she had been retired from hip for the past two years she kept in touch with the Board and staff members and shared several celebrations of her achievements like the Russ Berrie, Michael Lione and Celia Weissman awards in addition to being named a hip All-Star.
In our upcoming newsletter we will feature a tribute section so if you have a special recollection of Eileen please email it to me at email@example.com Memorial contributions can be made to hip for the Eileen Goff Legacy Fund in care of Trish Carney.