ELIZABETH, NJ - With nonessential face-to-face meetings largely on hold due to COVID-19, services for people with developmental disabilities are evolving with virtual options to help people meet their goals and find enrichment in a challenging time. 

Day habilitation and vocational and recreational services are among the programs that were forced to close due to the pandemic in March, leaving providers to develop new solutions.

Jessica Gaeta, 22, is a Community Access Unlimited (CAU) member who made the switch to virtual services this spring. She is enjoying a busy schedule studying music and theater, self-help, math, history, and visual and digital art with the Academy of Continuing Education. CAU is a Union County-based, statewide nonprofit that strives to integrate people with disabilities and at-risk youth into the general community through comprehensive supports.

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“It was hard to get used to at first but it’s really good for me right now,” Gaeta said. “I love to be doing art a lot and I like studying it too.” 

Gaeta had a busy schedule before quarantine that included attending ACE, working part-time, and dance classes several times a week. Unfortunately, her summer schedule of participating in Special Olympics New Jersey for swimming, golf and basketball was canceled due to the pandemic. 

“It’s been great that she’s had ACE to participate in,” said Jessica’s mother, Eileen. “It’s been wonderful for Jesse, she looks forward to it. It’s definitely been in our favor during this pandemic.” 

CAU is currently accepting registrations for virtual Day Habilitation, the Academy of Continuing Education (ACE), and Vocational services on the virtual services portal. Members can choose from a wide selection of groups such as Life Skills, World Cultures, Culinary Arts, and Health and Safety in the Workplace, depending on what services suit their needs.

“It’s important to us to make sure members are still achieving their goals even when we can’t see each other in person,” said Bernadette Griswold, executive director of CAU. “We want to offer every benefit possible to members through virtual service options.”

“The teachers do a good job of making it exciting,” Jessica added, explaining that she enjoyed learning painting techniques in her class and using them to perfect her own sunset painting. 

Virtual groups involve much more than video sessions and completing assignments online. Virtual field trips are one exciting possibility that can bring subjects such as American history and science to life. 

CAU virtual services are subject to change. Visit the CAU website and sign up for email list to stay up to date.