Monday, October 24, 2011

Breaking Down Barriers to Rides

Coordination Changing Lives in Allen County, Ohio
Contributed by Rik Opstelten

For organizations working to improve access to community transportation, the importance of their efforts is underscored by the stories from people whose lives changed as a result of access to transportation. When communities come together to coordinate and improve transportation options, barriers to rides are broken down for people who need a ride. To that end, here are a few shining examples of how the lives of two individuals transformed after their community came together to help them find a ride.

In 2010, Allen County, Ohio took part in ESPA’s AccessibleTransportation Coalitions Initiative (ATCI). This meeting brought together a growing coalition that includes the disability community, the local Easter Seals affiliate, transportation providers, and county and regional planning officials who work together to coordinate transportation in Allen County and the region. Administered by the Area Agency on Aging 3, the coalition, called the Future of Accessible/Coordinated Transportation Services (FACTS), operates a one-call referral system to help people find a ride. FACTS also operate a last-resort fund to provide transportation to people who might otherwise fall through the cracks of existing eligibility requirements.

“The great thing about our call center and FIND A RIDE program is that it is structured around what our community already provides,” says Erica Petrie, FACTS coordinator. “We don’t offer just another transportation service. Rather we fill in the gaps.  Our call center staff works to ensure that the caller knows about transportation options that are already available to them in the community.  When there is nothing available, we can set up transportation through our FIND A RIDE program for those over 60 or under 60 with a disability. With each person who gets a ride, we feel we are accomplishing our goal.” 

What does it mean when someone is able to call one knowledgeable source to learn what resources exist to get them where they need to go? A world opens up, as it has for one 46-year-old woman with a disability who has decided to go back to school to get her GED. Her night classes end at 7 p.m. after the fixed-route service has stopped running. Thanks to FACTS and Good Rides, a transportation service operated by the local Goodwill Easter Seals affiliate, she is not only able to go to school and return home, but she can get the education she wants to pursue her dreams.

“Goodwill Easter Seals Miami Valley understands that the people we serve need to be mobile in the community, able to access every aspect of community life for educational, social, or work purposes,” stated Michelle Caserta, program/transportation coordinator, Goodwill Easter Seals Miami Valley.  “Our participation in ATCI and the FACTS coalition help us play a key part in seeing that every possible community resource is utilized toward that end.  Such coordination helps us ensure that this is only one of many successes we are proud to contribute.”

Other people have had their lives changed due to accessible transportation, such as an older woman who is now able to go to medical appointments on her own for the first time in twenty five years. Her husband used to take her where she needed to go, but after he passed away, her daughter assumed that role. As often happens, however, her daughter’s schedule does not always allow her to give her mother a ride. Thanks to the connections made by FACTS, the woman is now able to go to medical appointments on her own and has a new sense of pride and independence.

These are just two people from one community whose stories represent what is possible when a group breaks down barriers to accessible transportation and creates opportunities for community involvement.