By Gina Macris
For people with developmental disabilities, reliable public transportation – or the lack of it – can mean the difference between accepting a job offer and staying home.
A Coventry, RI man who had a chance to work at a Home Depot near his home faced that dilemma when he learned that the state’s paratransit system for people with disabilities could not go into the shopping center where the store is located.
To solve the transportation problem, the man’s family and his job developer, Rory Carmody, Director of Program Services at AccessPoint RI, pitch in to drive him to and from work, said Carmody’s boss, Tom Kane. But the hours the man can work are limited to the times Carmody and the man’s family are available for drop-off and pick-up, said Kane.
Kane, the CEO of AccessPoint, shared the story in a conversation after a June 18 meeting of a special legislative commission studying Project Sustainability, the state’s fee-for-service reimbursement system for private services for adults with developmental disabilities.
The session focused on the intersection of jobs and transportation, featuring remarks from three speakers:
· Scott Avedesian, CEO of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA)
· Scott Jensen, Director of the Department of Labor and Training (DLT)
· Robert Kalaskowski, Chief of Policy and Planning for the Governor’s Workforce Board.
The example of the Coventry man illustrates the challenges of relying on the paratransit program, which operates only along corridors that mimic RIPTA’s regular bus routes. The shared RIde program for people with disabilities may drop off and pick up at sites no more than three-quarters of a mile outside a regular bus route, according to the RIPTA website.
Because RIPTA doesn’t send regular buses to Little Compton or Foster, the RIde option for residents with disabilities is not available either, said Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown. And, he added, there’s only one public transit stop in Tiverton.
Recently, the directors of the agencies responsible for services for the elderly and those with intellectual and developmental disabilities accompanied Avedesian on a paratransit run that picked up four individuals, one of them in a wheelchair, and took them to their various destinations.
Rebecca Boss, the director of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), said it was a “really good experience for everyone to see the hands-on, labor-intensive type of transit that we perform.”
For the officials, the experience took two and a half hours, from the time the van left the RIPTA garage to get the first client until the time it returned, Avedesian and Boss agreed. It happened to be a day with a lot of traffic, Avedesian added.
Even though the clients weren’t on the van all that time, Kate Sherlock, a commission member, said the run took too long. “I cry when I have to be in the car for two hours,” she said.
Avedesian said that for him, the biggest takeaway from the experience was the need for matching the locations of clients and available jobs to minimize travel time, “so that we’re not taking someone all the way from Woonsocket to Newport.”
Avedesian said he’s impressed by the “intensive amount of time, money and labor involved in moving one person from one end of the state to the other.”
DiPalma said the average cost of a paratransit run is $34, but the program is reimbursed roughly $8 to $14 of that cost, depending on the intensity of the client’s disability. He said the reimbursements are Medicaid-authorized federal and state transportation dollars assigned to BHDDH clients to cover travel. No public transit system in the country is financially self-sufficient, DiPalma noted.
DiPalma has convened an informal group of representatives of public and private agencies who are interested in solving the transportation problems of people with disabilities. The agencies include BHDDH , DLT, RIPTA, the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, the Providence Chamber of Commerce, the office of U.S. Rep. James Langevin, and others, he said.
Moving forward, transportation must become more malleable to the needs of the people, he said. If someone lives in Glocester and has a job in Newport, that person may be able to get work closer to home, but “if that’s the job they have, that’s the job they have,” DiPalma said.
Jensen of DLT offered a different way of looking at the transportation problem.
If people with developmental disabilities can be viewed as a source of excellent workers, rather than a population needing support, a stronger argument can be made for investing more in transportation, because of the value this group brings to the economy, he said.
“The company will be receiving value, the person will be paying income tax and can buy more things than they otherwise would,” Jensen said.
He said “coalitions of the willing” are “trying to find those positions where companies recognize the value of people with developmental disabilities. That takes time.”
He said a “handful” of companies, like Home Depot and CVS, have made the “moral choice” to employ individuals with developmental disabilities.
“We want to also help make this a practical choice” for many businesses, Jensen said, by starting with employers’ demands and finding the right match in the labor force - “the right person, in the right place, at the right time, and with the right skill set.”
BHDDH officials recently put the employment rate for adults with developmental disabilities at 29 percent.
Kalaskowski, of the Governor’s Workforce Board, said the state is promoting that strategy in the Real Pathways program, part of the broader Real Jobs initiative.
In Real Pathways, DLT works with private providers of employment-related services for adults with developmental disabilities, promoting collaboration among job developers to find the best match between the employer’s demand and worker skills.
A job developer working alone may not have just the right client and face the choice of either forcing a match that won’t work out in the long run or letting a relationship with an employer die, Kalaskowski said. In a network of job developers, one may pass along a lead to another and they will return the favor down the line, he said.
Andrew McQuaide, a senior director with Perspectives Corporation, said Jensen and his team deserve “a lot of credit” for fostering a culture of collaboration.
McQuaide recalled how one man with developmental disabilities connected with a training opportunity offered by the Rhode Island Nursery and Landscape Association because both he and AccessPoint’s Rory Carmody “spread the word.”
Then, when a job with a landscaping company opened up, someone in the community who knew the man from the RINLA training recommended him for the position. The man got the job “not because DLT put any dollars forward,” McQuaide said, but because of the “culture and the connections” that DLT promoted.
Boss, the BHDDH director, said she is excited about the collaboration with DLT. Tracey Cunningham, the director of employment services, and other dedicated officials at BHDDH do a good job in helping adults with developmental disabilities find work, but the staff at DLT “lives, eats and breathes” jobs, she said.
The next meeting of the Project Sustainability commission, set for June 25, has been cancelled because of likely schedule conflicts as the General Assembly wraps up its 2019 session, DiPalma said. He said the meeting will be re-scheduled sometime in July.