Discrimination against the disabled is alive and thriving in the 21st century. A recent story in the Star-Ledger sickened me! A single family home in the town of Rahway, New Jersey, was to be purchased with the intent of becoming the domicile for four adults with disabilities and a mentor.

A group of “concerned citizens, including the mayor, were vehemently opposed to this idea. One of the homeowners on the same street as the house in question, said he has nothing against the disabled, and I quote, ”but a ‘facility’ such as this does not belong in a residential community.” He went on to comment that he has no problem with the disabled and that he isn’t the type of person who will discriminate against anyone. He also pointed out that this is not NIMBY (not in my backyard). Wait! It gets worse! He was also quoted as saying that he believes a “facility” of this type does not belong in any neighborhood.

I wonder if this person knows the definition of the word oxymoron. What a coincidence that the third syllable of this word is such a good descriptive word for such a person (in my opinion). Since when is a home where five adults live considered to be a facility? Is it because these adults are not related by blood? Or, is it that any home inhabited by an unrelated group of people who choose to live together, automatically no longer considered a home but a facility? Surely there are many, many adults sharing their living quarters for a variety of reasons. What about the countless number of college students who share the same premises? Many times it is the only viable financial solution for those who want to be independent, but can’t afford to live on their own.

Another possible reason is factored around the issue of security. There is safety in numbers. Many people are simply afraid to live by themselves. Loneliness can also be a decisive factor for many other persons who are not necessarily related. Where is it written that only a group of adults who are related have the right to live in one place together? Oh, wait a minute. I forgot that this particular group of adults are disabled. Well then, it would seem that the reasons mentioned above are not valid for people who are differently-abled. What is acceptable as a home for the greater majority of typical people, suddenly becomes a facility because these adults are disabled.

I wonder how the people in Rahway who have kids with special needs felt when they read this article. How many of these people helped to elect the mayor of this town? Nearly 100 residents attended the city council meeting and presented a petition protesting the proposed group home. I guess it would be a safe assumption that none of these individuals have family members or close friends who have children with special needs.

What repulsive lessons these parents are teaching their children. It’s okay to say one thing and do another. Clearly, all people are not created equal! Their actions suggest that certain populations would somehow be harmful to a community, even if they are decent, law abiding and just plain nice people. This way of thinking condones the idea that it is not innocent until proven guilty, but just the opposite. In particular, people who are disabled must be inherently evil if these conclusions were reached before they ever had a chance to live in this town. This kind of thinking perpetuates the many myths surrounding the disability population.

My son’s bike was stolen recently and I went to the local bicycle shop in town to check out a new one. Each bicycle had a notice on it from The ARC (The Association for Retarded Citizens) informing the consumer to follow the law in regards to wearing a helmet. This sign is a reminder that kids are not always born with developmental disabilities.

Many children suffer traumatic brain injuries as a result of bicycle accidents and become disabled. Developmental disabilities can happen to anyone at any time. Most people don’t become involved in a cause unless it personally affects them. Well, some of the people so vehemently opposed to adults with disabilities living in their midst, may one day have a family member who becomes disabled.

America is a wonderful melting pot of cultural diversity. I believe that the majority of people are open minded and try to be fair. Something happens though, when some people come in contact with adults and kids with disabilities. It is understandable to be fearful of the unknown. However, so many teachable moments have been forever stilled by a small group of persons. Parents could have had many opportunities to educate their children about important lessons on life. In many cases, adults need the education first, which is perfectly okay because they haven’t had much exposure to people challenged in different ways. Nothing is more powerful than first hand experience. The community could have embraced the occupants of the group home and offered their support and friendship. There are plenty of resources and printed materials available. Many excellent books written specifically for typical kids about their peers with special needs can be found in the big book store chains.

For those of you who do not know me personally, my thirteen year old son has an Autism Spectrum Disorder. I believe in Anthony, encourage him always and support his efforts in becoming as independent as possible. As an adult, I envision Anthony living independently with a proper support system. When my son is deciding where he wants to live, I will encourage him to explore many environments. Rahway will be one community that I hope he does not consider appropriate to live in and/or work in.

I’d like to end this story with one final quote. I asked my Mom, who is 77 years young, to read the aforementioned article about the group home. What did she think about it? Her exact quote was, “it sucks!!! ” Unquote. *

Debra Fernandez

Project Coordinator,

Community Resource Centers, SPAN

& Concerned Parent 

*I want the readers to know that the end quote is not a word that my Mom (or I) use freely. However, I felt that if I substituted another word, it would have significantly lessened the impact of her disgust at such blatant discrimination.

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