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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Lack of public transportation for disabled is inexcusable

It has always astounded and even angered me that the city and region -- the Motor City -- that put the world on wheels can't take a person who might use a wheelchair around the block on public transportation.
It is inexcusable. Lack of public transportation at reasonable cost stops people with disabilities from getting to jobs, places of entertainment or even to a friend's home for a visit.
Recently, I received an email from the mother of a 19-year-old man who has epilepsy and, therefore, can't drive because of his disability.
She said her son, who lives in Oakland County, needed a way to get to his part-tie job at 5:15 p.m. and she called the Paratransit service in  her area and workers there told her that Paratransit was only "to drive old people to doctor's appointments."
Well, shame on you. When this advocate and others started implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act shortly after President George H.W. Bush signed it into law on July 26, 1990, transportation needs were covered in the civil rights law.
Not only was there provisions for vans to take people with disabilities to work, to a movie theater or to a job, but it included retrofitting public bus systems so that wheelchair users can use the public buses. A lawsuit even had to be filed against the city of Detroit a few years ago because the wheelchair lifts on most of the buses didn't work. When the Department of Justice threatened to withhold federal funding to Detroit, the wheelchair lifts suddenly, as if someone waived a wand, got repaired and properly installed, but it is a continuing battle to keep them functional because of Detroit's financial crisis.
But things aren't rosy for everyone.
Local governments because of a lot of foolish reasons haven't followed the ADA and created a transportation system to allow those with disabilities to get where they want to go when they want to go there.
My heart feels for my young friend who can't afford to hire a cab. It's understandable. I worked with a gentleman once who was blind and he had to pay $40 a day for a cab to take him to a center for independent living in Sterling Heights in Macomb County to his home. Who can afford that?
For my teenage friend, a job is a big deal. It will give him a sense of pride, accomplishment and the chance to make new friends. These are critical variables in forming a healthy self-concept and happy life.
All the civil rights laws that have passed are about inclusion and equality. They are about helping people with disabilities move into the mainstream of society.
The jobless rate among the disabled in America is triple the rate for those who are temporarily able-bodied, according to U.S. Census data. I say TAB because we all are temporarily able-bodied for only so long until illness, an accident or age catch us and we become disabled in a way that a major daily activity such as walking, talking, hearing and caring for oneself is impaired.
I wish the solution to my friend's problem was as easy as picking up the phone and telling the folks at the Oakland County paratransit that Pat needs a ride to work and they would realize this is the humane and right thing to do.
When we, the 60 million people with disabilities in America, are more gainfully employed, our political leaders, Wall Street traders and economists won't have to worry that much about recessions let alone a depression such as the one that crippled America in the 1930s.
Those with disabilities will have billions of dollars to spend at retailers and my buck is just as good as your buck and it's good for me and businesses to spend it.
In addition, those who are disabled and work pay state, local and federal taxes as well as Social Security instead of receiving benefits from the federal or state governments in a complicated maze that starts at the Department of Health and Human Services and then money for programs to help the disabled participate in society winds its way down to states and then counties and then to local programs that assist them.
A better way would simply be for the feds to have the "money follow the person" and then my friend could afford to hire a cab or driver and not hear we don't drive people to work from an entity that was created to do just that.
I and others who are advocates for civil rights aren't going to look the other way, any more. We are learning how to pull the levers of power.
Sometimes, powerful civil rights movements start when a woman like Rosa Parks, a lady of color, sat down on a bus because she was tired and started the Montgomery bus boycott which changed America.
This just might be another case that starts off with a simple desire and turns into something major -- actually leading to transportation services in suburban regions for the disabled.
Hopefully, this case will turn out as it should with my friend packing a lunch and getting picked up at 5 p.m. or so in Clarkston by a paratransit van or local system and driven to his job in Ortonville by 5:15 p.m.