Experts gather for groundbreaking symposium at JESPY

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SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — JESPY House, a nonprofit organization in South Orange that works to advance independence among adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, recently presented a dynamic two-day symposium at South Orange Performing Arts Center titled “Aging in Place: Innovative Strategies to Support Adults with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities.” The event featured a who’s who of professionals in the field, and who educated service providers and families about important issues facing those with disabilities as they age and how to best support their clients and loved ones.

Among the topics highlighted were access to health care and social services; tackling abuse and neglect; and the importance of home safety modifications. The symposium drew more than 125 individuals from 10 states, including social workers, support agency representatives, parents and siblings. All were eager to learn and share knowledge that could better the lives of older adults with disabilities.

“Our clients are presented with age-related challenges decades earlier than the traditional population,” JESPY House Executive Director Audrey Winkler said. “Physical aging, osteoporosis, arthritis, diabetes, all of the age-related challenges that we typically see in the population, we see it earlier and we have 100 clients that are in that situation.”

The first of its kind in the Northeast, this symposium is vital because the number of adults with disabilities is expected to double by 2030 and their life expectancy will be longer. Guest speakers, who hailed from across the country, were some of the industry’s most renowned experts and thought leaders.

The first day’s keynote speakers were Tamar Heller and Lawrence T. Force. Heller, who heads the University of Illinois-Chicago Department of Disability and Human Development, discussed the need for bridging aging and disability.

“I like the notion of interdependence instead of independence,” she said. “It’s being able to voice what you want instead of being left alone to do it yourself.”

Areas that Heller cited as priorities are age-related conditions, generic vs. specialized care, client support, transportation assistance, and end-of-life care.

Force, a gerontologist and director of the Center on Aging and Disability at Mount Saint Mary College, discussed some of the latest innovations in services for adults with dementia. He encouraged audience engagement while outlining the importance of identifying services to families. He gave a brief history of the work done by professionals in the field and stressed aging with dignity, not aging in isolation.

Breakout speakers for the day included: Dr. Craig Escude, the president of Health Risk Screening Inc. in Clearwater, Fla., who discussed “Dual Diagnosis in Aging Adults and The Fatal Five: Preventable Causes of Mortality in Community-Based Settings”; licensed social worker Colleen Beach, a specialist professor at Monmouth University School of Social Work, who spoke about the importance of addressing abuse and neglect; Lori Norris, director of the National Center for Innovation and System Improvement at Fedcap, who highlighted physical conditions that need constant care, such as vision and hearing loss, as well as dexterity challenges; and Ellen Nalven, the executive director of Planned Lifetime Assistance Network of NJ, who addressed securing clients’ futures through fiduciary services, special needs trusts and life plans.

Licensed clinical social workers Rosalie Cespedes and Sherry Scucci-Hamilton, leaders of the JESPY House Clinical Team, spoke about the prevalence of anxiety and depression among older adults and presented case histories. Highlights that capped the day were a screening of the documentary short film “Possibility: The Space Between Limits” and a networking reception that included comments from Marsha Atkind, executive director of The Healthcare Foundation of NJ, a lead sponsor of the event, and South Orange Trustee Deborah Davis Ford.

On the second day of “Aging in Place,” disability policy was front and center. Discussing the topic was keynote speaker Michelle Putnam, associate professor and associate dean for research at Simmons College School of Social Work in Boston. The second keynote speaker, Caitlyn Coyle, introduced the need for an inclusive approach to building age-friendly communities. Coyle is a research fellow and assistant professor of gerontology at the University of Massachusetts-Boston.

Breakout speakers for the day included: Holly Hardaway, a certified occupational therapist, aging-in-place therapist and assisted living administrator, who discussed home modifications for aging adults with disabilities; and Ruth Loew Schildiner, a longtime JESPY House consultant and expert in healthy eating among all age groups and abilities, who gave a presentation on nutrition and eating disorders.

Throughout the course of the symposium, family members and professionals asked questions and shared experiences. Attendees echoed its success and the need for ongoing dialogue.

“Like other aging Americans, people with intellectual or developmental disabilities may need higher levels of support to enable them to live full, active and healthy lives in their communities as independently and for as long as possible,” said Tara Robert, JESPY’s marketing and community relations supervisor.

JESPY House serves 250 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities ranging in age from 18 to 70. To learn more about JESPY House, now celebrating its 40th anniversary, visit

Photos Courtesy of Sonya Kimble-Ellis