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Posted at 3:59 PM ET, 12/22/2009

Disabled and left out in the cold in Arlington

By editors

By Billie Jean Keith

Arlington County officials, in the name of dealing with a budget shortfall, are cutting services and imposing restrictions on 1,200 Arlington residents with disabilities who use the Star paratransit program.

In early December, I was one of four blind people attending the Transportation Advisory Committee meeting to request reconsideration of the county’s imposition of restrictions that mean waiting for at least an hour or 90 minutes for a return trip on the paratransit service, even for so simple an errand as buying stamps. Last summer, while waiting 30 minutes longer than usual for a ride home because of this policy, I fainted on an Arlington sidewalk.

Before, drivers would wait 10 minutes while we completed such errands. Now they will do so only for medical or child-care necessities, and medical stops can be made only after a visit to a doctor’s office. For these shorter trips, we pay a co-payment, meaning three co-pays instead of two for many trips.

Residents with disabilities were not included in the process that led to these policy changes; nor did we know about them until we called for transit reservations.

The response to our request that the new policies be reconsidered was immediate, negative and punitive. With little discussion, a motion was made by a Transportation Advisory Committee member to agree to all county staff-suggested cuts and to require that we use public buses. The motion was amended to “encourage” us to use public transportation, which has been policy for years, and then it was passed.

I’m 71, widowed and blind, and I have been an Arlington taxpayer for 25 years. I find the county’s approach to policymaking for people with disabilities — shunning our input — to be arbitrary, mean-spirited and based on ignorance of our hard-won civil rights. How is the county saving millions of dollars with any of these changes? Who’s blind here?

By editors  | December 22, 2009; 3:59 PM ET
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