Students survey people with disabilities to learn transportation needs

Wednesday, July 16, 2008 | 4:33 p.m. CDT; updated 12:25 a.m. CST, Wednesday, November 26, 2008

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.

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Charles Dudley Jr July 17, 2008 | 12:51 p.m.

I am sure if these students wanted some more input they could talk to the residents of Paquin Towers on this issue as well being Paquin Towers is one of the biggest concentration of disabled individuals trying to live as independent of a life as possible and still be able to have transportation to get around where needed.

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Gene LaCroix July 18, 2008 | 7:05 p.m.

Hi, Catherine.

I am a visionary who has a talent for unifying people and resources to ideas and action. This is easy for me in that I love doing it, but it is very difficult, time consuming, and politically sensitive. I know I will succeed in my BHAG to establish a sound, national paratransit system to the satisfaction of those served. I am very interested in the analysis of the survey results and talking to any students about their findings and if any public meetings or think tanks were used as a follow up. I am researching and planning a paratransit (large scale) project in the Seattle/Everett, Washington State area. I am extremely interested in setting a national foundational program that would allow 24/7 convenient, courteous, and timely transportation for anyone who just cannot get in a vehicle and drive themselves, especially, the developmentally and physically disabled. Thank you for any assistance you can give me in contacting these enlightened students. I would also like to talk with you, Ms. McComb, if possible.

PS: One item of commonality is the lack of patience I have found in talking with people who need this service the most. Please do not read into that statement. Anytime anyone is a prisoner of a culture, whether civil rights or equal rights, patience wanes and tempers flare. My first impression in reading the article was that “200” is rather a weak number of surveys. However, not really, if most were filled in by a second person. My one hope for the entire planning process is: As we talk about, search for, and conjure up solutions, much more we should listen and extend the same courtesies to each other. Our “you deserve it” marketing culture has created a selfish, self-destructing, “me-myself-and I” society. Remember this quote? – “United we stand, divided we fall”! Written by Aesop, a Greek slave from 620 – 560 BC! We are still trying to solve that issue 2,568+ years later. My email:

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