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Voices heard during East Hawaii disability forum

Hawaii Tribune-Herald - 9/9/2017

People with disabilities on Hawaii Island are working to improve access to jobs and ensure apartments are wheelchair-accessible and sidewalks are free of obstructions.

Those are things policymakers can change with laws, funding and administrative rules.

Thursday's third annual East Hawaii Disability Legislative Forum for people with disabilities helped connect them with government officials and was considered a "great start."

"There's nothing like this on the island. This is direct participation by the community," said Jesse Floyd, program specialist at the State Council on Developmental Disabilities.

A forum announcement at Aunty Sally's Luau Hale in Hilo included the tagline, "You can't have inclusion without us."

That set the stage for attendees. They plan to keep communicating with elected leaders and government representatives - until their voices are truly heard, Floyd said.

People with disabilities have previously felt like they're "bumping their head against the wall" when trying to get policymakers to improve accessibility, he said.

They aren't going to accept that any more, Floyd said, but will keep advocating - and growing in number - until change happens.

He said he appreciated the panel's diversity, including state Reps. Joy San Buenaventura and Mark Nakashima, state Sens. Russell Ruderman and Kai Kahele, county Mass Transit consultant Curtis Sharp and Dr. Andrew Tseu, chief of the state Department of Health'sHospital and Community Dental Services Branch.

Panelists heard much about transportation, which Floyd called "one of the biggest concerns."

Getting to and from appointments, work or school can be difficult, he said, because of challenges caused by cracks on sidewalks or other obstructions that can catch a wheel or cane. He gave an example involving the sidewalks along Kamehameha Avenue in Hilo.

"Know what they put right in the middle of the sidewalks?" Floyd said. "They put signs right in the middle of the sidewalks."

It's like an obstacle course for wheelchair users to get around light poles, crosswalk buttons, signs and fire hydrants, he said. A visually impaired person using a cane to walk also must navigate around those barriers, Floyd said.

He praised legislators for listening, providing information when able and being receptive to input.

Victoria Murray of Hilo spoke directly to officials on behalf of people with disabilities.

"Please continue to listen to us," she said, "and try to listen to our diverse needs."

Attendees offered suggestions for improved transportation, housing, health, education and employment for people with disabilities - basic needs planners identified.

Ideas included better bus service. The wheelchair lift on a bus sometimes doesn't work, one rider wrote.

Recently, "I had to crawl on the bus!" the person said.

Sharp said plans include expansion of bus routes to reach more locations. He said it will take time to expand the bus routes, but he said the county knows what needs to change. He watched a 67-year-old woman with three large grocery bags exit a bus. She then had to walk 2 miles.

"Not good," Sharp said.

Instead, he wants more routes so people don't have to walk as far.

"We're going to improve this ? definitely going to improve it," he said.

Murray said people of varying abilities must get involved.

"This forum is a really great start," she said.

Suggestions regarding education included helping parents with children who will need long-term support as adults after the parents die.

Housing suggestions included a request for help finding accessible places to live.

For health care, one attendee wrote that a daughter with special needs was unable to get an appointment until a state senator intervened. Another person asked for protections for people vulnerable to abuse.

"If one person states it, a lot more people are thinking it," Floyd said.

Murray told elected officials she knows "funding is a challenge for you guys."

But, she emphasized, "you are in a position to make a difference in our lives."

Email Jeff Hansel at jhansel@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 
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