Joe Amoroso, 39, is currently the acting division director for the New Jersey Department of Human Services, Division of Disability Services. Amoroso, who has cerebral palsy, oversees a budget of over $300 million and hopes to drop the “acting” from his title.
How’d you join the crip club?
My true awareness started in my early college career when I first moved away from home and had to deal with emergencies myself. My crutches broke on a Sunday afternoon, and when I called my dad he said, “What are you going to do?” He was halfway out the door and in the car on the way to help me when I told him I had found a medical supplies store and bought a new pair.
What is your passion?
Social justice. It drives me bananas that people are treated differently because of something not under their control, and disability is one of these things.
What’s your motto?
Facta non verba — “Deeds, not words.”
What makes it all worth it?
Being able to win, and change someone’s life for the better. Sometimes it’s a big win, like a policy or philosophical change, and I see people doing better because of what I’ve done. Other times it’s a small victory, something I did in one person’s life. And sometimes, I get props just for showing up for just being there and letting people talk.
What irks you?
Benefits at one time used to subsidize work, now it’s the opposite — work subsidizes benefits. People often get coached not to go to work. I had someone come up to a meeting and said to me, “You’re lucky, you have a job, at least you have something to talk about. My Thursday looks like my Sunday, but the television shows are different.” People need to be able to go to work and earn an income.
What are you proud of?
I’m very proud that I have embraced my disability. It’s probably a double-edged sword, but it’s pushed me the hardest. I’m proud I’ve come to peace with it.
Lay down some wisdom.
Get a job. Employment is the true key to equality because it gives financial ability to excel and also it’s what people do. People go to work. People gauge their lives by when they work, how they work, and people with disabilities who can work should work.
I led a workshop at The CP Group’s conference and a woman actually asked me how babies are conceived. She didn’t know how people have sex. She thought it had something to do with her breasts.
I think this lack of basic info could be a result of some of the myths that exist for people with CP. Like, one of the doctors who came and spoke said during the ’60s, the average life span of people with CP was 16, and the average age of people around the room was 40. No one planned on us being an older generation.
The CP Group came about because most traditional programming for adults with CP is not geared toward people on the professional track, which is fine. But we’re dealing with people who’ve taken time off from their jobs or college or other mainstream activity to find info on their disability.
We’re all volunteers, but we’ve been around for a few years, just elected our first board of directors, and I have been made national vice president.