TRENTON, NJ — JESPY House Executive Director Audrey Winkler and several other disability advocates and paratransit experts recently spoke at a Senate Select Committee on New Jersey Transit (NJT) hearing on the challenges faced by those with disabilities who use NJT's public transportation system.
During recent years, the system and those who run it have faced criticism from riders and lawmakers alike. To that end, Gov. Phil Murphy has acknowledged that there is work to be done and has allocated funds to make improvements.
The committee, which was created and is chaired by State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, has held three of these hearings to date. The third hearing provided an opportunity for those with disabilities and those who represent them to address the specific challenges and performance issues which are of greatest concern to those who depend on NJT.
As executive director of JESPY House, a South Orange-based nonprofit that advances independence for adults with disabilities, Winkler said she is intimately aware of how NJT's deficiencies impact JESPY’s clients—especially those who depend on Access Link, NJT’s paratransit system, to get to and from work.
“If your shift starts at 9 a.m., which many of our jobs do, the only available pickup is 6 a.m. or 10 a.m.,” she said. “So, either the clients have to go early and wait somewhere for two hours until the office opens, or they can’t take that job.”
She shared concerns regarding pick up schedules as well.
“The vans arrive in many cases before the clients’ shift ends, causing the clients to feel as if they’re being rushed to leave work early," said Winkler. "These situations all reflect on the type of employee you can be for a particular employer.”
For JESPY clients, full-time work equates to a life of greater independence. It is, therefore, very frustrating for JESPY clients who want to work full-time to have to settle for part-time work because of inadequate transportation, according to Winkler.
Her statements and the issues she shared were part of an ongoing discussion regarding problems that JESPY clients have had with Access Link. In the winter of 2018, Winkler and several clients presented those concerns at a NJT board meeting.
Winkler’s complete NJT testimony acknowledged improvements to the system that have taken place over the past year and also included client incidents, accessibility and weather-related concerns, and time-window availabilities.
At the latest hearing, other participants included representatives from ARC of New Jersey, Rutgers University, NJ Council on Developmental Disabilities, Disability Rights New Jersey, Community Access Unlimited, Abilities Solutions, Progressive Center for Independent Living and NJ Statewide Independent Living Council.
Established in 1978, JESPY House serves 250 adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities ranging in age from 18 to 72. Visit jespy.org to learn more about JESPY’s specialized programs and services.