Back in June, Nutley Family Service Bureau (NFSB) announced a $60,000 grant award from the New Jersey Division of Disability Services to help create a more inclusive place to live for people with disabilities.
NFSB is partnering with the Township of Nutley, Nutley Public Schools, and Nutley Senior Manor to guide this Inclusive Communities initiative and produce a community needs assessment. The assessment will be a survey used to identify and address barriers in Nutley that could be preventing people living with disabilities from leading healthy, productive lives.
The partners have also assembled a Community Action Coalition made up of more than 20 members of the community who were recruited to assist with listening sessions and the development of the community needs assessment. Several members either have disabilities or live with family members who have disabilities.
“People walk into my office with a lot of different challenges,” said Molly Clark, MSW (Master of Social Work), Case Management Coordinator at NFSB, and Project Liaison for the Community Action Coalition. “Some challenges can be addressed with federal and state benefits, but others are more local. This initiative is focused on pinpointing obstacles and gaps that could be getting in the way of a more inclusive community. Then we can advocate for change.”
Listening sessions were held at Nutley Senior Manor and the Nutley Health Department. A third listening session sponsored by Nutley Public Schools was held virtually. All three sessions were very successful, providing valuable feedback to support the Inclusive Communities initiative.
The listening sessions allowed us to identify the top three areas of need for people with disabilities in Nutley.
These three areas will now be the focus of our community needs assessment survey, which is being drafted for the partners to review.
The listening sessions were eye-opening and, at times, very emotional and intense.
“These sessions gave me a perspective that I really didn’t have,” said Katherine Carmichael, Executive Director of NFSB. “You can be deeply involved in the community and have an idea of some of the barriers, but there are so many things you take for granted because you’re not living with disabilities. We were touched as people shared their stories, and we’re grateful to gain a better understanding of challenges that exist from their point of view.”
For example, a decorative sidewalk made with bricks is beautiful, but it’s also a hazard for people who use a walker or a wheelchair. Many events are held in a community park because it seems very accessible, but hills and a lack of parking close to event activities create accessibility issues.
Another challenge that is often overlooked is socialization. People living with a wide range of cognitive and physical disabilities may have a harder time participating in social outings and meeting people.
Results from the listening sessions are being used to develop the community needs assessment survey. Once the survey is completed, the partners will prepare a report and seek funding for projects that make Nutley safer and more accessible for people living with disabilities.
“When the partners came together after the listening sessions were complete, we were very excited,” Katherine said. “Learning about the realities people are facing based on their life experiences will help us address these challenges and make Nutley a more inclusive community.”