COLUMBIA — Occupational therapy students at MU are looking to make a difference. Kelli Balm, Megan Schulze and Whitney Hedrick are conducting a survey about the transportation needs of people with disabilities.
Before their Community Assessment class ends on Aug. 1, the students plan to create and distribute a brochure outlining the transportation options available for people with disabilities. But in the long run, they hope to write a grant to fund improvements in local transportation systems.
“It could be making fares at a lower cost,” Balm said. “It could be providing more buses. It could be providing more drivers so they could operate on all days of the week.” She and her partners on the project won’t know until they get the surveys back.
Altogether, they’ve distributed about 200 surveys to Services for Independent Living, University Hospital, the Boone County Family Health Center, patients at the occupational therapy program’s clinic and other groups.
Barb Griffin, vice president of People First of Boone County, a self-advocacy group for people with disabilities, said she doesn’t mind filling out the surveys.
“It’s how we get the word out,” she said. “It’s how we get our voice.”
One issue that has already emerged from the 18 completed surveys the group had seen by July 10 is the lack of mobility outside of Columbia.
“You step outside the city limits and you are significantly more restricted,” said Giuli Krug, the clinical assistant professor who teaches the community assessment course.
Columbia Paratransit’s hours of operation have also posed a problem because its buses don’t run on Sundays. The issue seems to be funding.
“I realize that Paratransit knows and wishes that they could run on Sundays,” Balm said. “It’s just the funding issue. They have no resources to drive buses on Sundays.”
Krug agreed and said, “I think everybody truly is doing the best with the resources that they have.”
But it might not be enough. Members of People First sent a letter to Columbia’s Transit Authority in April about the lack of Sunday transportation.
“Our lives run seven days per week,” the letter stated. “We feel our public transportation should as well.”
Members urged the transit authority to seek more funding and offered to testify about their need.
In response, Ken Koopman, transportation manager, wrote that he and his staff would continue to seek additional funding but were “presently accessing every funding source available.”
Although writing a grant would likely take more time than the group has before their assignment deadline, they plan to pursue it.
“If one of the three of us is interested in continuing on, we could do it as potentially one of our research synthesis projects,” Balm said. “Or people in the class below us next summer could just continue. That’s a year away, but still it could help.”
Alternatively, Krug said, the Occupational Therapy Association, a student organization at MU, could take over the project.
She said Balm, Schulze and Hedrick are taking on an ambitious task.
“Last year we had some really phenomenal projects, but nothing that was this big in nature,” Krug said.
Schulze and Balm said they are enjoying the course.
“It just kind of intrigued us that we could make changes in our community,” Schulze said.
Surveys can be picked up at and returned to 425 Lewis Hall, Columbia, MO 65211.