'Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month' is Year Round at CAU

Mar 6, 2018

Community Access Unlimited was founded over 35 years ago through a one-year grant to take people out of developmental institutions and put them into the community.
Credit caunj.org

Community Access Unlimited was founded over 35 years ago through a one-year grant to take people out of developmental institutions and put them into the community, says CAU Assistant Executive Director of Business Development Joanne Oppelt. 

“Whatever they needed.  Supported housing, supported employment, getting people jobs, recreational trips, and advocacy trips in terms of speaking up for the rights of people with disabilities.  There are a lot of civil rights issues involved for people with disabilities who are not perceived as being equal to people with disabilities.”

Gary Rubin is the President of Helping Hands Self Advocacy Group at CAU.  A voice for people with disabilities in Trenton.

“I’m finishing up my national board which is SABE, Self Advocacy Becoming Empowered," said Rubin.  "I’m the Region 7 representative which covers this area.  I’ve been doing that for four years now.”

Before finding success as an advocate with CAU, Rubin spent six years at the now closed Johnstone Training and Research Center in Bordentown.

“It was very brutal," said Rubin.  "You got beaten up, chairs whipped over your head because you didn’t give somebody a cigarette.  Even the staff was brutal.  Just as bad as the clients were.  I’m surprised I lived through the six years I was there.” 

"People with disabilities have different ways they contribute to society. They often have skills and ways of looking at the world that people without disabilities don't. It really enhances societal and cultural views in what we do," said Joanne Oppelt, Assistant Executive Director of Business Development at CAU .
Credit caunj.org

Rubin says CAU opened a path to opportunities he’s been on for 25 years.

“I get to live the life I always wanted to live.  I don’t have to answer to nobody.  I can eat what I want.  Watch what I want on TV.  I pay my own bills.  That’s the best thing in the world.  Who wants to feel like they have to live with their parents their whole life?  I sure don’t.”

Myrta Rosa is a self-advocate and on the board at Community Access Unlimited.  Like Gary Rubin, she lived a life with less freedom before joining CAU.

“You couldn’t walk the premises by yourself.  You had to be with staff.”

Rosa is part of ‘Jump Start’, a small entrepreneurial self-advocacy firm. They offer workshops to ensure other advocates, service providers, and community understand the needs and rights of people with disabilities.  

“People with disabilities have different ways they contribute to society.  They often have skills and ways of looking at the world that people without disabilities don’t," said CAU Assistant Executive Director of Business Development Joanne Oppelt.  "It really enhances societal and cultural views in what we do.  Both Gary and Myrta have been employed.  They pay taxes.  They buy things at the store.  They are contributing citizens to the community.”

Community Access Unlimited currently serves over 6,000 people with disabilities across New Jersey.