Editor's note: The Americans with Disabilities Act celebrated its 10th anniversary this week.
Dropping by church, making an impromptu visit to a friend's house or running to the store to pick up a few things were not items that appeared on Barbara Halverson's to-do list two years ago.
Halverson uses a wheelchair, and when her husband was away at work on the North Slope she found herself effectively stuck at home.
That all changed in November 1998, when a wheelchair-accessible van, obtained through a grant to the Independent Living Center and leased to Alaska Cab Inc. under Brent Hibbert, began providing discounted transportation for central peninsula people with disabilities.
"I really enjoy it. Every driver they have has been really, really nice," Halverson said.
Before her husband retired, she said, she used the van to go to church on Sunday mornings, to therapy twice a week and even to go to the store.
"They're very nice about coming to get me, and very reasonable compared to a regular taxi. I've had to wait a few times, but you'd have to wait for anybody, I'd think. I don't have any complaints."
Joyanna Geisler, the director of the peninsula's Independent Living Center, wrote a grant to the Department of Transportation and received a wheelchair-accessible van and funding to subsidize discounted transportation. The van was then leased to Hibbert at Alaska Cab.
Disabled citizens can purchase coupons from the Independent Living Center for $2 and redeem them for regular taxi or wheelchair-accessible van rides worth up to $7, above which another coupon can be used. The $2 for the coupons must be the patron's own money, then $3 is subsidized by state funding, while the other $2 is donated by Alaska Cab.
In its two years of operation, the van has made more than 4,000 trips and logged 90,000 miles on runs between Kenai, Sterling, Soldotna and Kasilof. The ILC has sold 8,112 coupons to 154 different people for use in both the van and regular taxis. Geisler said she hopes to increase and maintain service by obtaining more funding and possibly even a new van when more grant money becomes available in September from the Department of Transportation and the Mental Health Trust Authority.
"People can go to church, school activities, concerts, shopping, or just get out and be part of society again," Hibbert said. "They love it, and it makes me feel good. They're not tied at home any more."
Before this program went into operation, many disabled people had no means of transportation. Other local organizations operate accessible vans, but only people that are served by those organizations are able to use them, Geisler said.
"The one thing that was really important to us was to make this program available to people with any type of disability," she said. "I think we've done a pretty good job of serving the elderly, kids, folks with mental illnesses, developmental disabilities and folks with physical disabilities."
To receive transportation services, a patron just needs to fill out a one-page application at the ILC's office in Soldotna and list their disability.
"We try not to make the process intrusive and a bunch of paper work for people," Geisler said. "There's already enough of that in everyone's lives."
The van runs from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and makes 8 to 10 trips a day. However, it is available after-hours if requested in advance.
"When we first started, it was real hit and miss," Hibbert said. "Now that we're busy, we're trying to get people to call in advance and coordinate trips. If we can do that we can haul more people."
The Independent Living Center is a nonprofit organization begun in 1991 that provides information and referral services to people with disabilities as well as businesses and organizations with questions about complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act; peer counseling, both individual and in support group; individual and systems advocacy and skills training. There are five regions in the state that are served by different ILCs. The Kenai Peninsula ILC serves Kodiak, Valdez, Cordova and the peninsula from its offices in Homer, Seward and Soldotna.
ILC requires a majority of its staff and governing board to experience a disability.
"In our realm, it's an asset to have a disability," Geisler said. "That's very different."
The ILC fills the gaps that other organizations miss. It serves people of all ages with any type of disability, "which is very unusual," Geisler said. "Each community defines what they need."
The peninsula's ILC provides specialized assistance to people with limited vision, works with disabled people that receive Social Security benefits and want to go back to work; and is working on an assistive technologies program, which will help employers and people with disabilities get technology and equipment that will make them more independent in their lives.
Another local group that provides services for people with disabilities is Frontier Community Services. The organization consists of several agencies that provide early intervention services, a senior program, developmental, physical and mental disability services, a respite care program and a vocational program that finds work sites for people with disabilities or employs them on a vocational crew.
Frontier is a nonprofit organization that operates off a state grant. However, part of its vocational program does generate profits. The organization as a whole serves the central peninsula region, though some of its agencies operate their programs throughout the peninsula. It has been operating for nearly 15 years and serves 100 to 150 people, said Lynnette Haas, with the Family Support Project of Frontier Community Services.
Frontier operates off a state waiting list. When someone is pulled off the list, Frontier provides individualized services to the individual's specific needs.
"We try to help the people that come through the door," Haas said. "We sometimes go above and beyond the call of duty, but that's just part of living in a small community."
Frontier and Independent Living Center, like many organizations on the peninsula (See list, this page), both provide services that help people with disabilities gain access to the whole of society.
"As more and more people with disabilities get out and are seen in the community doing the same things everyone else is doing, then integration and inclusion will follow," said Jim Brady, a disabilities rights specialist for the ILC.
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