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Panel wants to make county more accessible for disabled

April 02, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

A new organization wants to help disabled Washington County residents with transportation problems, grievances against businesses and other concerns.

Coordinator Norman Bassett said the first priority of the Washington County Disability Advisory Committee will be helping disabled residents get around the county.

Committee member N. Linn Hendershot said he has high hopes that the group's work will result in a more accessible county.

"We are just trying to work with the architects, the builders and the people who do the streets and the sidewalks so we can prepare for the future," said Hendershot, public relations director of the Western Maryland Hospital Center.

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Bassett, who works for the county, estimated that 16 percent of county residents are legally disabled, the same as the national average.

Hendershot predicted the percentage will increase to about 25 percent by 2005.

The committee intends to extend the outreach of the Washington County Disability Issues and Training office. It won't cost the county any money since everyone will donate their time, Bassett said.

The exact makeup of the committee has not yet been decided. Core members, besides Hendershot and Bassett, are Peggy Martin, executive director of Consumer Driven Services Inc.; Catherine Skaggs, senior investigator of the Maryland Human Relations Commission; Jim Willhide, rehabilitation supervisor for the Maryland Department of Rehabilitation Services; and County Commissioner Paul L. Swartz.

The county has a program that offers free transportation for people who have a legitimate reason why they can't use the fixed bus routes, Bassett said.

The federal government pays 90 percent of the costs, he said, and its rules limit such services to areas three-quarters of a mile from a fixed bus route. The rule exists to try to ensure that the county's fixed bus routes are equitable, he said.

Most of the people using the regular bus service are in the city limits, stranding some people who live outside the city, he said.

The committee is hoping to hear from organizations around the county offering to help provide transportation services to disabled residents on a regular basis, he said.

Another way the committee hopes to help is by responding to the 10 to 15 weekly calls Bassett gets from residents with Americans With Disabilities Act grievances.

Some don't know how the law works, nor do they realize there is a three-year backlog on federal investigations into such grievances, he said.

The committee wants to begin dealing with complaints more informally by sending a volunteer, rather than a federal investigator, to visit the business that is the subject of the grievance.

The committee also would be able to respond to other questions and problems, he said. Currently, people with disability questions tend to call him even though his purview is supposed to be limited to county government facilities and programs, he said.

The committee's next meeting is at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Western Maryland Hospital Veterans Administration Center.

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