Over the course of my career, I have conducted public forums, focus groups and town meetings for government agencies and professional associations. These events have always proven to be thought-provoking and stimulating as they advance the democratic process by giving the participants their chance to express their views. Those of us who run programs that provide services to groups serving people with disabilities rely on consumer input to best respond to the needs of the community.
The three topics that always emerge as priorities are Housing, Employment and Transportation, as a matter of fact, we often open the conversation with this trio just to get the crowd engaged. I’ve recently been asked to co-chair the Disabilities Issues Committee of the Bergen County Workforce Development Board and while the three familiar topics emerged there was a groundswell of support for the committee to focus on transportation alone. Everyone at the table representing at least 16 community programs raised some provocative questions, expressed some dynamic suggestions and agreed to develop strategies around the effective use of available public accessible transportation in Bergen County for work, play, worship and medical appointments.
In the short time that the group spent brainstorming we each learned something new about a service or program which helped form our goal to raise the awareness of the community through some sort of seminar. Frankly, if we as service providers don’t know the resources then how can we expect our consumers to use them?
As many of you know the Independent Living movement is turning the “Big Four O” this year. It was the 1978 amendments to the Rehab Act of 1973 that responded to the advocacy efforts started by college students with disabilities who wanted equal access to education on their college campuses and guess what else…Housing, Employment and Transportation! Their advocacy grew beyond academic life to include many people interested in breaking down physical and attitudinal barriers under the slogan; “Nothing about us without us” and the world began to change and The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990.
I’m taking this trip down memory lane to illustrate that we cannot rest on past achievements:
- The ADA has recently been under fire in the House where modifications to weaken it were proposed and passed. We need to watch that the Senate does not do anything that will let this law be watered down in the name of making a profit.
- Despite some corporate culture shifts Diversity programs still do not always include individuals with disabilities.
- We’re still listing Housing, Employment and Transportation as priority areas of need for people with disabilities.
At hip we are continuing to represent the empowerment of individuals with disabilities through outreach, education and advocacy. Let us know how we can help you.