Corrections or additions?
This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the August 7, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Unsheltering the Disability Market
Way back when, somebody invented a squeeze ball as a
tool for physical therapists. If you had lost the use of your hand
from a stroke or an operation, you squeezed this special appliance
to gain strength. Now these squeeze devices are sold everywhere —
in gift stores, toy stores, and drug stores — for stress relief.
In just that way, many inventors for the disability market have moved
into the mainstream.
That idea gives Cori C. DiBiase great hope. He directs two shared
office spaces, called Daily Plan-Its, for Community Options, the Farber
Road-based nonprofit that has community-based services for those with
severe developmental disabilities (609-951-9900; fax, 609-951-9112
COINet, Community Options Incubation Network, is the first incubator
in the nation to specifically focus on this market. It has incubator
space and services for entrepreneurs with disabilities and entrepreneurs
who want to produce products for the disability market. It may help
bring Community Options out of its hard times. The nonprofit organization
had even explored the possibility of selling the Daily Plan-It facility
on Alexander Road as part of an overall restructuring.
"Things are going really well and we are back on track," says
Robert Stack, founder and CEO of Community Options. "We have been
able to rework some of our numbers and are not going to have to sell
the shared office property."
"Through relationships in the business community we look to provide
more services — to move away from the more traditional sheltered
workshop in an institutionalized setting. That’s what drives us,"
says Will Abrams, executive director of Community Options Enterprises,
all the vocational services for New Jersey. A graduate of Indiana
University at Bloomington, Class of 1994, he has an MBA from the University
of San Francisco.
DiBiase left a job as executive director of an independent living
center on the West Coast to join Community Options because, he says,
"it is on the cutting edge of services for people with disabilities.
We promote community integration through these businesses and the
other services we provide. Our organization is not comfortable with
providing services in a sheltered workshop situation."
A handful of businesses offer mainstream opportunities. Working at
Tennyson’s Florist, for instance, give those with disabilities the
training needed for a job in the "real" world. This New Brunswick-based
Teleflora florist does both retail and corporate accounts. A corporate
cleaning service and jobs at the Daily Plan-Its offer similar opportunities.
Between 20 and 40 percent of the space at both Daily Plan-It locations
is being set aside for disability-related clients of the incubator.
The incubator provides below-market cost office space, specialized
support services, and computer training to entrepreneurs disadvantaged
by income, status, or disability who are interested in starting or
growing a technology-related business.
DiBiase also offers these services virtually. "Of the 10 applicants,
only two have wanted our space," he says. "The others wanted
fast track loans, mentorship, contacts, training seminars, availability
of conference rooms and virtual phone receptionists, and pro bono
legal and accounting services."
COINet is supported by the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology,
the New Jersey Technology Council, the Rothman Institute for Entrepreneurial
Studies at Fairleigh Dickinson, the New Jersey Division of Vocational
Rehabilitation and the Division of Developmental Disabilities, and
Microsoft is donating software that facilitates computer training
and support services for those with and without disabilities. "We
are pleased to collaborate in this dynamic enterprise to maximize
the power of technology to close the digital divide and enable a new
class of entrepreneurs," says Janice Hertz, director of the Microsoft
Corporation’s accessibility technology group.
Another supporter is the New Jersey Community Loan Fund (NJCLF), which
has a disability-oriented loan fund to encourage entrepreneurship.
Brian Keenan, an officer of the NJCLF, is on the Daily Plan-It’s board.
"Many of our incubator tenants will depend on the Community Loan
Fund, and we want to see they have a fast track to get loans,"
So far DiBiase has located two clients for the Morristown office and
three for the Princeton Daily Plan-It on Alexander Road, plus some
virtual clients. "We are showing pretty strong growth," says
DiBiase. Contact him if you believe your business qualifies for the
incubator — or if you can use florist or cleaning services provided
by the other Community Options businesses: E-mail: email@example.com,
or call 973-644-4835.
"Any young business can use a helping hand, but we are looking
at a market that is widely underpublicized," he says. "The
products or services that constitute this market are thought to be
so specialized as to not be a part of the larger market. But we operate
against that assumption."
"Our idea is that what starts out as a product for the disabled
can make an easy transition into the wider market," says DiBiase.
For example, he cites the voice recognition and speech software —
Dragon, Naturally Speaking, for instance — that were originally
meant to help those with visual impairments to operate a PC.
"This market is not growing at the pace that it should, because
it needs a lot more attention from the market at large. It needs to
have a public face," says DiBiase, "so that everyone knows
that what might begin as a product for the disability market can easily
become a timesaving innovation for the mainstream."
DiBiase grew up in Allegheny County, on the New York/Pennsylvania
border, where both of his parents were teachers. He went to Simons
Rock College and SUNY at Purchase and after graduating in 1992, he
did sales and marketing for various technology firms. "I enjoyed
the work but I didn’t feel my work was contributing to any larger
purpose," he says frankly, "and now I am trying to bring the
skills and acuity from the profit world into the nonprofit world.
"I am still doing sales and program development but the end purpose
is much more fulfilling," he says. "When we make the general
marketplace more inclusive of the disability market, we therefore
make our society and our economy more inclusive of individuals with
Says Stack: "We’re trying to create an atmosphere like Cheers
where `everybody knows your name and they are all so glad you came’
so that people with disabilities can get jobs in mainstream society.
We want the business community realize that they offer value-based
services, that they are good workers, reliable, and honest."
— Barbara Fox
Series performing arts program at the Theater at Raritan Valley Community
The Merck Series begins in November with In the Mood, a musical review
of tunes from the 1940s. There will be performances of the Nutcracker
in December, a Celtic Love Fest on Valentine’s Day, and a performance
by the Peking Acrobats in mid-March.
has donated 12 digital wireless phones to the Meals on Wheels program
in Washington Township. Volunteers now have a wireless phone in hand
in case of an emergency situation arises during food delivery.
Meals on Wheels director Nicole Fehn says "some of our clients
have medical conditions and others do not have phones. Our volunteers
will now be able to contact the proper authorities immediately at
the push of a button.
first member of its First Home Club program. Through this program,
first time home owners earn a $5,000 grant from the Federal Home Loan
Bank of New York, earmarked toward the purchase of a home. In addition,
participants receive a lower mortgage rate from Roma, help with closing
costs, and free financial education.
To qualify for the First Home Club, individuals must have an income
of less than $56,880, and families must have an annual household income
of less than $65,412.
The club encourages participants to save toward a down payment, and
provides grants of $6 for every $2 saved up to $5,000. Call 609-585-6300,
raised $15,000 for this year’s Relay for Life, an event that raises
money for the American Cancer Society in Mercer County. The
Quality Market raised and contributed more than $12,000. Other
major sponsors were
National Bank, and
raised more than $52,000.
plans to build a Ronald McDonald House on the campus of the Robert
Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick. The new facility
will accommodate overnight stays to help offset the burden an extended
hospital visit can place on the families of seriously ill children.
Foundation of the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey
(UMDNJ) so that it can add 20 new students to its nursing program
in the spring of 2003. This grant comes in response to a national
nursing shortage, with New Jersey alone expected to have almost 14,000
fewer nurses than needed by 2006, an 18 percent shortfall. The nursing
program is operated jointly by Middlesex County College and UMDNJ.
counseling services designed to increase coping skills needed because
of the continuing threat of terrorism. Formerly known as the Greater
Trenton Community Mental Health Center, Greater Trenton Behavioral
Healthcare is a mental health and substance abuse provider offering
a wide range of home-based, school-based, and community-based treatment
options in Mercer County. For more information regarding these services
Avenue, is asking for community support in closing the gap in its
operating budget. For over seven decades, the Princeton Nursery School
has provided early childhood education and day care to 50 preschoolers
from low-income families. Sixty percent of the children live in homes
with an annual income of less than $25,000. A main goal of the school
is to provide a nursery school experience that will enable these youngsters
to participate effectively with their peers in the Princeton public
schools. Increased funding will ensure this continuing mission through
scholarships. Call 609-921-8606.
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