IN: Transportation Voucher Program Gives Greater Mobility to People With Disabilities

July 12--Jeff Busch says a new transportation program for people with disabilities has significantly enhanced the quality of his life.

Since the New Freedom transportation voucher program was launched in January, the 47-year-old Bloomington resident -- who is blind -- has used it more than a dozen times, getting taxi rides to the grocery store, meetings and restaurants.

"I love it," he said. "It's a wonderful program. It's opened up a lot of doors for me that were previously closed."

For years, Busch has used BT Access to get around, but that seven-days-a-week program requires people to place their travel reservation by 5 p.m. the day before they plan to use it.

"BT Access is great, but I love the spontaneity of the voucher program," he said. "I can decide to go somewhere on the spur of the moment and just go."

The New Freedom program, operated by the Area 10 Agency on Aging, allows people with disabilities -- everything from blindness to Parkinson's disease -- access to low-cost cab rides through vouchers with E2 Taxi. The taxis take riders to any place in Monroe County. BT Access transports folks only to locations within the Bloomington city limits, and on nights and weekends, its service area is more constrained.

So far, Busch is among a relatively small number of people who have taken advantage of the new program, but Area 10 Agency on Aging officials are expecting that number to grow significantly once more people with disabilities become aware of it.

"We've sold 65 vouchers to date," said Barbara Salisbury, the mobility manager at the Area 10 Agency on Aging. "That's not bad for a program of six months, but we want to sell more. It's often hard for people with disabilities to try something that's new and different, especially when it comes to transportation."

Salisbury said those who've used the transportation program are singing its praises.

"They say it's the best thing since sliced bread," she said. "They like the reduced cost, and it allows them to travel more spontaneously."

People who qualify for the program can buy up to six vouchers per month, at a cost of $7.50 each. A single voucher will enable the user to call E2 Taxi, which will dispatch a handicapped accessible taxi to take the person -- one-way -- to any location in Monroe County for any purpose.

"This program gives people more flexibility," Salisbury said. "They can take the taxi to a hair appointment or Lake Monroe; to a bar on Saturday night or to church on Sunday morning."

If you're interested in taking advantage of the program, you can download an order form and medical form validating your disability from www.area10agency.org/newfreedom, then fill them out and mail them, along with a check, to the Area 10 Agency on Aging, 631 W. Edgewood Drive, Ellettsville, IN 47429. If you are already a BT Access customer, you don't have to fill out the medical form. You can also submit the two forms electronically on the website, but would still need to mail in your check to get signed up for the program.

"We will process your voucher order the same day we receive it," Salisbury said. "You will get your voucher or vouchers three to five business days after we receive your check."

The vouchers expire after 60 days.

Salisbury, who is blind herself, said it's immensely important for people with disabilities to have access to transportation.

"It's psychologically debilitating to feel isolated and trapped at home," she said. "People need to have the option of getting out of the house and being mobile."

Salisbury encourages those using the new program to also use other transportation programs. She suggests, for example, taking Rural Transit to the grocery store, then using a voucher for a taxi ride home; or taking Bloomington Transit to the mall and calling a taxi when it's time to go home.

The New Freedom program is being funded with grants made to Bloomington Transit, which is paying Area 10 Agency on Aging to implement the program.

"I hope people will use this program to show its effectiveness," Salisbury said. "You have to use it or lose it."

To learn more about the program, visit www.area10agency.org/newfreedom or contact Salisbury at 812-855-2191 or bsalisbury@area10agency.org.

Copyright 2014 - Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind.

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