New Jersey now has an Ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities and Their Families, an office that Governor Phil Murphy announced in April 2018. Paul Aronsohn has a broad background in government, nonprofit organizations, and private industry.
His primary responsibility is to serve “as a source of information for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities and their families and interested members of the public, to help them better understand state and federal laws and regulations.” Aronsohn will also be working among various departments, divisions, and councils within New Jersey state government to identify concerns among state residents seeking or receiving services, assist state agencies in developing communication strategies and programs. These include the State Council on Developmental Disabilities, Division of Children’s System of Care, Division of Developmental Disabilities, Department of Children and Families, Department of Human Services, and Department of Human Services, as well as the Governor and the Legislature, to which he will issue an annual report.
“It’s so hard to navigate the system as it is, and so it’s so important to have an advocate, to have help out there to find to find their way,” says Aronsohn. “The main purpose is to work with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families to help them get the services and supports they need and deserve.” These include the following:
- Helping them navigate the system
- Working with them to find ways to improve the system.
The good news is that New Jersey provides a wealth of services, including important programs such as NJABLE. The bad news is that it’s so difficult to navigate. There are so many different programs; many New Jerseyans are not aware of them. He hopes to bridge that disconnect. And the key is to help people access them. “Ultimately, it’s about making sure that the voice of the individual and their families is heard… and that they’re involved in the decisions that are affecting them,” he says.
Paul has three siblings with a mix of disabilities. One sister, Patti, passed away recently. “It’s really through her experience and her life that I learned and became passionate about disability issues.” When she was still alive and he publicly championed public health and service issues such as stem-cell research. Throughout, Paul respected his sister’s privacy and never mentioned her name or how she and her family would benefit. Back in June 2016, when he was the Mayor of Ridgewood, he made a detailed plea for a “Disability Czar.” In fact, back in June 2016, when he was the Mayor of Ridgewood, he made a detailed plea for a “Disability Czar.”
Being in such a family, he says, is to have a front-row seat, affording one with a better understanding of what individuals with disabilities and their families face. Next, “you take that passion” and “bring it to every situation you know, every family that comes to us.”
Aronsohn identified the following challenges:
- Persons with a dual diagnosis (e.g., I/DD and mental health challenges)
- Transition, from a child with I/DD to an adult: There are a lot of programs on each side of that age 21 mark, but many people do not know about all that is available. We need to educate families even before their son or daughter becomes 21, “to make sure they’re aware of what they need to do to access those programs, to access those services.”
People with disabilities, along with their families, now have a voice in New Jersey state government to assist when navigating the maze of social services becomes overwhelming. And for parents needing specific help with IEPs during child study team meetings, we offer advocacy services as well. Help is on the way!
New Jersey disability ombudsman Paul Aronsohn