July 21, 2023

Bedford, NY, Task Force, Looks to Make Town Neurodivergent Friendly

By Published On: July 21, 2023Categories: Latest News576 words
Bedford, New York

An important change is in the works in Bedford, N.Y., where a task force is making the Westchester County town more inclusive for people who are neurodiverse.

The group, called the Bedford Neurodivergent Task Force, was created by the Town Board in March 2023. Its inclusive mission encompasses people with may think or behave in ways that diverge from dominant social norms including, but not limited to, individuals on the autism spectrum and those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).

Committee members are in the throes of collecting feedback from families (see more about the critical survey it created below); identifying the appropriate training programs for people such as store owners and first responders; and working on an online guide for families listing support services, sharing accessibility information, and more.

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“When my son was young, I used to take him to the public playground, but nobody would play with him. It broke my heart,” says Millie Hernandez-Beckford, a resident whose son, now 24, is autistic. “We need this initiative, not just for them but for the benefit of the community. People need to see and understand that these people are here.”

Bedford, made up of three unincorporated hamlets, is a rarity, one of a small but growing number of towns and cities nationwide that actively want to change how this population is perceived and treated. And for good reason: One in 36 8-year-old children were identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in 2020, according to the CDC, up from 1 in 68 in 2012, and 1 in 150 in 2000. Overall, nearly 1 in 11 kids were diagnosed with autism, intellectual disability, or developmental delay between 2019 and 2021.

And here’s some local data: Documented cases of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the New York-New Jersey metro region increased by as much as 500% between 2000 and 2016, according to a Rutgers study. Additionally, New York has the third-most number of adults (over 350,000) living with Autism Spectrum Disorder in the country.

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The Bedford plan “started in a room of about 25 people, and we all sort of shared our stories,” says Wendy Belzberg, chairperson of the task force whose daughter, 24, has I/DD. “It was a real cross-section — first responders, parents, members of the school board who brought a lot to the table.”

The task force is comprised of persons with and family members of persons with neurodivergent disabilities; representatives of business and community organizations; a member of the Town Board; a member of a School Board; and other interested stakeholders. It plans to spend 6-12 months identifying ways to help and start to make Bedford an accessible and inclusive town.

“I’d like to build a community where my daughter can live comfortably and feel welcome and included,” says Belzberg. “And the whole success of this initiative rests on everybody joining hands and problem solving together.”

In the New York area, Bedford follows on the heels of a similar initiative in Rhinebeck in Duchess County, which that town calls the first “Autism Supportive Community” in the region. As part of the initiative, volunteers, businesses, and community leaders are being trained to help make the community more welcoming.

Survey (Check it out!)

The  Bedford Neurodivergent Task Force Community Feedback Survey is designed to understand how individuals who think differently — including their friends, family members and caretakers — feel about living in and around the Bedford area.

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