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For Immediate Release:  
For Further Information Contact:
March 17, 2005

Office of The Attorney General
- Peter C. Harvey, Attorney General
Division on Civil Rights
- J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo, Director

 

Lee Moore
609-292-4791

 
AG, Division on Civil Rights Host Session Two of Annual Disability Law Conference;
Conference to Focus on the Rights, Concerns of Persons with Mental Disabilities

TRENTON – Attorney General Peter C. Harvey and Division on Civil Rights Director J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo announced today that the State will host the second session of its Second Annual Disability Law Conference: “Protecting the Rights of People with Mental Disabilities” on Wednesday, March 23, at Bergen Community College.

The event is free and all are welcome to attend. Anyone interested can register online at www.NJCivilRights.org. The first session of this year’s Disability Law Conference was held at the Ancora Psychiatric Hospital in Winslow Township, Camden County, on March 9. The session was well attended, Attorney General Harvey said, and drew an audience that reflected a cross-section of persons interested in the rights of those with mental or intellectual disabilities. From advocates to attorneys, and from service providers to the relatives of persons with disabilities, people from throughout southern and central New Jersey came to listen, learn and ask questions about this complex and sensitive topic, Harvey noted.

The Attorney General said the goal of this year’s conference is to foster greater awareness and understanding of the rights of those with mental disabilities, and to provide persons with disabilities – as well as their loved ones and other advocates – an opportunity to ask questions and express concerns.

“We in law enforcement have both a moral and legal responsibility to make certain a person’s disability never becomes a justification for disparate treatment in the workplace, housing and public spaces,” said Harvey. “Enforcing the State’s anti-discrimination statutes, and holding those who discriminate accountable, is one way we are meeting this responsibility. Another way is through ongoing education and public outreach efforts – like this conference -- which provide New Jerseyans an opportunity to obtain the information they need to protect their rights, and the rights of loved ones.”

Division Director Vespa-Papaleo said the Division’s main objective in hosting this year’s conference is to educate attendees about the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) in general, and especially as it pertains to those with mental health issues.

“We need to ensure that residents of the state are made aware of their rights to places of public accommodation, employment, housing, education and public services,” he said.

Vespa-Papaleo added that last year’s Disability Law Conference, which focused on the rights of the deaf and hard of hearing, “was so successful at letting government agencies know how we can continue to help our constituents, we knew we had found a forum and program that would be fruitful.”

This year’s conference is also part of continued, extensive outreach to New Jersey residents with disabilities through the Division’s Disability and Public Accommodation Special Investigation Unit. Under the leadership of Acting Governor Richard J. Codey, who has made mental disabilities and mental illness a priority policy issue, the conference will bring renewed awareness to the public about mental disabilities, and help facilitate the advancement of the rights of the mentally disabled.

“This conference supports our broader efforts to eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness,” Codey said. “By educating the public about the rights of individuals of mental illness, we are helping break down the barriers they too often face.”

The Division on Civil Rights has brought together experts from around the state to present various issues pertaining to those with mental disabilities, and to answer questions from members of the public. Panelists consist of representatives from the Coalition of Mental Health Consumers Organization, Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, Mental Health Association of New Jersey, NAMI-NJ, New Jersey Community Health Law Project, New Jersey Protection and Advocacy, Governor Codey’s Mental Health Task Force, and the Division of Law and the Division on Civil Rights.

The conference is co-sponsored by Acting Governor Codey, Attorney General Harvey, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, New Jersey Division of Mental Health Services, New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities, New Jersey Mental Health Task Force, New Jersey Human Relations Council, Bergen County Division of Disability Services, Bergen Community College Office of Specialized Services, and Ancora Psychiatric Hospital.

The Division on Civil Rights is responsible for enforcement of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and the Family Leave Act. Specifically, the Division investigates allegations of discrimination in employment, housing, places of public accommodation and credit. The Division has six offices located in Trenton, Newark, Atlantic City, Paterson, Camden and Jersey City. Further information about the Division is available on its Web site, www.NJCivilRights.org .

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