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Williamsport, Pa. – Just over 30 years since the passage of the American’s with Disabilities Act, advocates say Lycoming County still has a long way to go in providing access to all of its residents. 

The halting process of ADA compliance has not progressed fast enough for over 10% of individuals in the county with disabilities, and increased efforts in recent years seek to highlight faulty efforts by local governments, schools and employers. 

Proper accommodations, such as access to government buildings and readily available assistive technology, must be made. Without them, members of this population cannot independently participate in communal life — something local disability advocates and service leaders are determined to change.

“Without accessibility, there is no ability for people with disabilities to be fully integrated into society,” said Misty Dion, CEO of Roads to Freedom, Center for Independent Living.

Dion has worked for CIL, a nationwide, consumer-driven agency that empowers the disabled with a variety of ancillary services, for 16 years. When she became CEO of the Williamsport chapter in 2015, her goal was to integrate both her staff and clients into state and local government. Only then did she realize how many challenges people with disabilities in the area were facing. 

The biggest issues? Accessibility, transportation and affordable housing — all of which affect the potential to hold a steady job. 

Bridging the gap 

Employment is an important step toward independence, both in daily life and financially, according to Chris Tsai, vocational rehabilitation professional. She added that many people with disabilities often struggle with both internal and external factors pertaining to employment. 

Overcoming the inner struggle after years of being told you can’t hold down a job, you can’t live on your own, you can’t do what the other kids are doing, is a tough barrier to break through. 

Inadequate accommodations in the workplace make these barriers even harder to tackle, Dion said.  

“I think some of the biggest misconceptions are that people with disabilities cost more…that they might be more of a liability, which is funny because that couldn’t be further from the truth. Typically, people with disabilities have insurance, are committed or more committed than maybe somebody who gets a job easily…Most reasonable accommodations can be (made for) $50 or less.”

While the majority of pushback against expanding disability accommodations is financial, some simply comes from a lack of understanding, Dion says.

For years, people with disabilities were kept separate, funneled into life skills classes or institutionalized. To address this ignorance, CIL offers Project Able, an outreach sensitivity training program that lets people ‘try on’ a particular disability. 

“It’s a great way for them to get a feel for some of the people they may interact with,” Dion said. “(It) increases their comfort and sort of bridges that gap.”

Building access

At 9 years old, Brain Patchett noticed he couldn’t read the chalkboard from his seat in the back of the classroom. 

At first presumed to be a simple case of being near-sighted, his parents soon realized he had juvenile macular degeneration and his vision would be severely impared for the rest of his life. 

Despite limited access to adaptive technology and stigma from other students, Patchett received a PhD and spent much of his adult life as an advocate helping businesses create adaptive systems for their employees. 

Patchett, now president of North Central Sight Services, is invested in acquiring necessary assistive technology and services for over 10,400 visually impaired people in Lycoming County. 

Even today, many of the school districts don’t have the technology to help kids with impairment have access to the education of those who are fully abled. He stresses the importance of getting everyone — educators, administration, parents and students — on the same page. 

“We’re trying to find ways to help everybody in that situation,” Patchett explained. “How can we provide some expertise and facilitation to help the schools, the families?… How can we find great solutions that will help a child going through school get the education they need, to really be able to be confident and say, ‘I’m going to be successful.’”

Change is happening, but not fast enough

Though Patchett and Dion acknowledge the strides the government has made since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990, both say there are many miles to go. 

Built in 1901, the building known today as City Hall was purchased by Williamsport in 1977. Since then numerous deficiencies with the building have piled up, estimated at nearly $5 million. 

In addition to many of the standard building improvements, making accommodations for disability access has been limited...

Read the rest of the story here at On the PULSE News.