Survey to assess the needs of people with disabilities

September 30, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

Peggy Martin is hoping for 1,000 responses to a new countywide survey on employment, transportation, health care, housing, services and technology, all as they relate to people with disabilities.

View the survey here!

If everyone affected by these issues responded, there could be many thousands more completed surveys.

Martin, chairwoman of the Washington County Disability Advisory Committee, said as much as 20 percent of the population has a disability of some sort. She cited the U.S. Census Bureau for that estimate.

For Washington County, which has a population of more than 130,000, that could mean 26,000 people, Martin said.

A 1999 U.S. Supreme Court decision stated that a disability hinges on "whether the person is substantially limited in performing a major life activity when using a mitigating measure," according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.


Martin said a "mitigating measure" could be medication, a prosthesis or a hearing aid.

For the last six to eight months, the Disability Advisory Committee has been working on the comprehensive survey, which will be available through the county, mostly through social services organizations. Almost 7,000 copies will be distributed.

The deadline to respond is Nov. 22.

The survey is timed to start at the same time as National Disabilities Awareness Month, which is October. Activities are planned in Washington County beginning with Tuesday's dedication of a "Boundless Playground" with ramps, special surfaces and platforms at Martin L. "Marty" Snook Park in Halfway.

Martin said the survey will be done in two parts - the public first, then service providers. This will enable the advisory committee to determine what people need and what they can get.

"We are chartered to assess the physical needs of people with disabilities in this community," said Martin, of Williamsport.

Norman Bassett, administrator of the Washington County Office on Disability Issues, said the extensive survey may be one of a kind in Maryland.

"This is something people are always saying: 'I wish we could find that out,' " Bassett said.

The survey is not anonymous - it asks for the respondent's name, address, telephone number and rent, among other things. But all information is confidential.

"This is paramount ...," said Bassett, the liaison between the advisory committee and the Washington County Commissioners. "People need to know this will be in the strictest of confidence."

The survey offers 11 choices under type of disability: mobility, hearing, visual, stroke, mental health, developmental, learning disability, arthritis, traumatic brain injury, neuromuscular and respiratory.

In the transportation category, respondents are asked how they get around, how often and when they travel and where they go.

The housing questions are about types of housing, amount of rent and barriers.

Other parts of the survey ask respondents to list the services they receive, the equipment they use and the health care they need.

Much of the 10-page survey requires check marks or short answers, but a few questions ask for longer written explanations.

Martin said a few people with average reading skills filled out the survey in a trial run and took 20 to 25 minutes. People with more severe disabilities, particularly those that affect their ability to write, may take longer.

A woman who is dyslexic took more than an hour to fill out the survey on her own.

"We tried to keep it to one page per topic," but the transportation and services questions required more space, Martin said.

The Washington County Commissioners formed the Disability Advisory Committee in 1999. Martin said committee members include people with impairments of many types, such as hearing loss, diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

Transportation needs

In 1995 and 1996, before the Disability Advisory Committee existed, the Western Maryland Coalition conducted a transportation survey in nearby parts of Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Martin said that survey led to the creation of the Paratransit bus program for Washington County.

Kevin Cerrone, director of transportation for Washington County, said the Paratransit program operates six days a week and costs $2 per trip.

County Commuter buses take people who qualify "curb to curb" - exactly where they need to go - as long as it's within three-quarters of a mile of a fixed route.

The program started in 1997 with one vehicle and now has three.

Cerrone said there were 8,500 Paratransit customers in the last fiscal year, which ended in June. Ridership has increased about 25 to 35 percent each year, he said.

The county also coordinates a taxi voucher program, which offers reduced fares for people who have disabilities or are at least 60 years old.

The county contracts with Turner Van Service to pick up customers, who can buy $10 worth of vouchers for $3.75.

Cerrone said the taxi program is also expanding, but at a lesser rate than Paratransit has.

Cerrone said County Commuter buses running their regular routes give discounts to riders with disabilities.

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