By Leigh Ann Smith
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Leading disability advocates and human service organizations are understandably anxious as they await city transit funding decisions. The impending King County Metro cuts, if enacted in Seattle, will hit the disabled particularly hard. King County Metro is slated to cut 74 bus routes and change 58 others, with the first round of cuts starting in September. At stake, for disabled individuals living independently in King County, is self-reliance and freedom.
“People are very worried,” said Hope Drummond, a Seattle Commissioner for People with Disabilities. “We work so hard to be independent, and now, if the buses and Access (handicap-accessible services) are cut, we become dependent on others. That ‘I Can’ feeling is going to be taken away.”
Transit agencies like King County Metro are required by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act to provide equal access to public transportation for persons with disabilities. Yet, the ADA only requires equal access be provided where bus routes exist. For those routes on the chopping block, the agency is not required by law to provide para-transit services, like Access, which provide transit solely to those disabled individuals unable to use regular buses.
This is not a problem impacting just a few. One in five individuals, or nearly 20 percent of the population in the United States is impacted by a disability, according to the Census Bureau. It is estimated that in King County there are 175,000 individuals with an ambulatory, cognitive, hearing, sight, or self-care disability. Nearly half of these individuals are challenged with an “ambulatory disability,” meaning that they’re unable to move from place to place without the aid of a wheelchair or another form of assistance. Nationwide, the Department of Transportation estimates that nearly 560,000 disabled individuals are unable to leave their home, citing transportation difficulties as the reason why.
Ken Michelson, the Director for the Alliance for People with Disabilities sees this as a major health issue, “People could literally die without transit to access food, and go to needed doctor’s appointments.”
At the present time, human service organizations, along with King County Metro, are considering how best to get information in the hands of those who may be later impacted.
“A lot of what we are doing now is communicating and information sharing. There are a number of unknowns. Without new funding, we can’t really avert the funding cuts completely,” said Jon Winters, a manager for the King County Mobility Coalition. “We will continue to share information about other programs that can fill in the gap.”
While no one source of information exists for the disabled seeking transit options, there are severalplaces to start, including the websites of King County Metro and the Crises Clinic. Area nonprofits like Hopelink, Solid Ground, and the Arc of King County provide limited transportation programs. The Hyde Shuttle Service provides daytime transit to most of Seattle, Seatac, Burien, and Tukwila for individuals 55 and older. Private taxi company Stita provides wheelchair lifts.
Digital Promise President Dorene Cornwell is blind. After failing a routine eye exam, nearly 10 years ago, she learned that she had a detached cornea – a usually treatable condition, but not in her case. Cornwell, a writer, community leader, and Washington Council of the Blind member, has found ways to keep moving in spite of this disability. Living just South of Capitol Hill, she is 100 percent reliant on public transit, and frequently uses the 8, 43, and 47 to keep her life humming along. Several of the proposed route cuts and changes will make simple routines for her a complicated, tiring affair. A trip to the neighborhood grocery store, which she now frequents a couple of times a week, will require up to three bus transfers.
More than just a ride, Cornwell said, “The bus is this social world, and it is connection, you are sharing the ride, and on good days it is really wonderful. It matters as a disabled person to be out and be seen, and see other people like you, who are in different and similar situations. My sister has a wheelchair. She is always exchanging other info with other riders; you wouldn’t find that if everyone stays home.”
When asked how she and others will manage if the proposed cuts go through, Cornwell said, “Sometimes you fit your life into the resources you have available. This will just fall to people who are already heavily burdened.”
She is optimistic, though, that disability advocates can win the day saying, “Keep telling Metro what routes are important to you. They do listen to you. The squeaky wheel does get greased.”
Interested individuals are encouraged to visit the King County Metro website and contribute comments to the public testimony section of the website, and sign up for Metro’s Accessibility Alert.