By, Pam Teel
Advancing Opportunities, Inc. provides services to people with disabilities and their families. The agency traces its roots back to a group of parents with children who had cerebral palsy; they banded together to advocate for their children.
The initial mission of the group was to help each other meet the challenges their families encountered raising their children. Those families faced bar- riers, a lack of services, and attitudes that were, at times, less than congenial. The parents persevered. The vision they had for their sons and daughters was that they would be welcomed in their communities; that their abilities and strengths would be recognized; and that they would be nurtured to grow and reach their fullest potential.
Nearly seventy years later, the agency continues their vital work. To give you an idea of the scope of their efforts, the agency provided services and supports to more than 3,000 individuals with disabilities and their families last year.
“Our mission is to achieve full societal participation for all people with disabilities,” said CEO Jack Mudge. “We have a team of dedicated profession- als who are committed to advancing the independence of children and adults with disabilities at home, school, work, and at play.”
In the area of education, the agency’s Special Education Advocates work with families to help ensure students with disabilities receive all they are en- titled to in school. The agency’s Assistive Technology Services team helps teachers and school districts make curriculums accessible to students of all abilities. Members of the AT team also provide evaluations to help students find the tools, software, and devices that will best suit their abilities.
The agency recently launched its Student Success Center, a collaboration among its Advocacy, Assistive Technology and Career Development services that helps high school students with disabilities prepare for postsecondary programs. The Student Success Center also supports college students on cam- pus and with their career goals. This program has developed partnerships with several colleges and the NJ Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.
Advancing Opportunities also provides access to the community to many men and women who were living in New Jersey’s Developmental Centers. The agency currently operates 17 group homes around the state and is active- ly developing more housing opportunities for people disabilities. The agen- cy’s Residential Services team and its Assistive Technology team are currently working on getting smart home technology into all of the group homes. They are evaluating each resident’s needs and providing training. Residents can keep in touch with family members via Face Time and control their immedi- ate environments with Google Home products. The smart home technology is also used by the residential team to monitor and improve safety within the homes.
Additionally, the agency’s Career Development team is working to give men and women with disabilities access to employment. The team helps in- dividuals formulate career goals and develop plans for achieving them. The Family and Individual Supports team works to integrate people with disabili- ties into their communities by helping them get involved and stay active.
The agency’s Assistive Technology Services team operates the Technology Lending Center, a library of devices and tools that people with disabilities in New Jersey can borrow and try, free of charge, before they commit to purchas- ing an item.