Nov. 20--SCRANTON -- People with disabilities and their advocates seem to agree on one thing: The County of Lackawanna Transit System and other transportation agencies provide great service -- except when they don't.
Transportation concerns came up early and often at a public hearing Tuesday to receive input for Pennsylvania's next three-year State Plan for Independent Living.
The forum, hosted by My Center for Independent Living on Sanderson Avenue, was the fourth of five scheduled across the commonwealth to solicit testimony about the human services needed to support independent living by individuals with disabilities. The statewide plan receives about $300,000 annually.
Mary Claire Boylan, social work coordinator for the Lackawanna Blind Association, told hearing moderator Matt Seeley that her agency quizzed clients about the primary barrier to their independence "and everybody came up with the same topic -- transportation."
"Huge," she said. "It's the biggest problem."
Although she described the shared-ride service COLTS provides to low-income, elderly and disabled people as "wonderful," Boylan cited a series of scenarios where both the shared ride and the regular COLTS bus service don't meet the needs of visually impaired residents, including veterans.
She pointed out it is more convenient for a disabled veteran to get a bus to the Mohegan Sun Pocono casino than to the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center, both of which are in Plains Twp.
"So what's more important? Gambling or the veterans?" Boylan asked.
Ron Biglin, a visually impaired veteran from Newton Twp., also praised the shared ride system but said there needs to be more coordination between COLTS and the Luzerne County Transportation Authority to make it easier for people who have to travel to medical appointments in the Wilkes-Barre area.
Tim Moran, chief executive officer of MyCIL, said he reviewed every State Plan for Independent Living for the past 25 to 30 years and found the key areas of focus are virtually the same in all of them. Transportation is the No. 1 concern, followed by housing, employment and socialization, he said.
"I'm sick and tired of seeing the same things in the state plan every single time it comes out because there is no resolution to any of it," Moran said.
Seeley, executive director of the Pennsylvania Statewide Independent Living Council, who opened the forum with a reminder that suggestions should be realistic, reiterated there is only about $300,000 available statewide each year to implement whatever is contained in the plan. Not many big issues can be solved with $300,000, he said.
"The last three or four plans are almost identical because we hear the same things," Seeley said. "But, we can't fix county-to-county transportation. We can't fix employment."
When Moran asked if there has ever been a study to determine what can be fixed, Seeley asked whether the $300,000 should be spent on that.
"It's better than nothing every three years," Moran said. "At least it's progress."
Keith Williams, MyCIL advocacy and outreach coordinator, suggested using a portion of the $300,000 to develop a pilot program for providing post-graduation transitioning services for young people with disabilities.
While in school, most of those young people have individualized education programs and are eligible for a variety of services that end abruptly once they graduate at age 18 or 21, he said.
"It's like walking off a cliff," Williams said.
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