Many of you already know that there is a certain lack of transportation with regard to those with disabilities in my town, and you may well know that I was unsuccessful in my first attempt to rouse my local lawmakers to decisive action. However, I am far from browbeaten about the problem and thanks to a presentation by one of my favorite motivators Dr. Wayne Dyer entitled How To Be A No-Limit Person, I was inspired to re-purpose my letter to address the Governor of New York State Mr. Andrew Cuomo. The letter below is what I will be sending him this week. I decided to include the Governor's office address in this blog post in that the Governor is a public official to be called upon by we the people of his state and/or his country when some of us feel it proper and prudent to do so.
Mr. Michael G. LaPenna
Freelance Writer, Editor, Online Media Specialist
177 DuBois St
Pine Bush, NY 12566
The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
Monday, August 8, 2011
Dear Mr. Governor:
My name is Michael LaPenna. I am a thirty-year-old resident of Pine Bush, New York. I was born with Cerebral Palsy and was raised in what one might consider a typical family of five, put through K-12 education in the
Pine Bush School District, and began my college career at . I pursued Communications, and completed an Associate’s degree in Applied Sciences in May of 2002 and like most young men in their twenties, viewed the world wide eyed and hopeful and with that youthful vigor, I took to my best skills: DJing parties for friends and associates, beginning a screenplay which would become a novel, and exploring freelance writing as a career for a couple of years until enrolling in the State University of New York at New Paltz in 2005 where I majored in Media Management – Communications while hosting a college radio show, joining a poetry team and meeting my future wife among a multitude of other priceless experiences, memories and friendships that I will hold dearly in heart for the rest of my life. Orange County Community College
Since receiving my B.A. in May of 2007 after discovering that sales, marketing and the like just weren’t in my heart, I fervently pursued freelance writing—and while I have loved it, the market just has not paid very well. So like any enterprising person, I have soldiered on in the hope of finding work where I can get it. I even went so far as to enlist the services of a job coach this past summer at Independent Living Inc, in Newburgh, New York. I did so not because I thought I needed training in how to write a resume, how to speak, how to dress and present myself at an interview, but because my disability limited my ability to work. This is a fact which my optimism continues to move beyond in a mental sense. I cannot do manual labor, build houses, dig ditches, wait tables in a restaurant, move furniture, stock high shelves and so forth. But moreover and most frustrating is the fact that my disability (as of today’s technological availabilities), completely prohibits me from being able to drive a car.
For many years, I thought I would be able to get some type of hand controls to assist me in driving similar to those used by other wheelchair users like me—but as providence would have it, I would not be able to drive. The reality of this eventually led me to seek other means, and so I did. My search led my everywhere in the valley and I eventually found that there were ambulette services in my area that would cover the cost of my travels so long as I received proper approval from the State Medicaid office. I was thankful and I counted on this fact to assure and ensure my successful travel to and from any job that I would obtain in the future. And so filled with hope, this past summer, I applied to jobs as many jobs as I could.
I spent the three months that followed combing the Internet, making lists of ideal jobs, writing cold letters and making phone calls to all jobs within range and consulting with my job coach
on how to perfect my approaches on all levels. Within only a week, I had made several new contacts and was feeling great! I set up several interviews and finally I found and received a paying, part-time job with the local Boys and Girls Club. I was excited! The job wouldn’t be high paying, but it was literally five minutes from my house! All that was left to do was to book my hours with the ambulette service. I called to book my hours and things were underway until I was asked where I would be going. I gave the address. That seemed fine. When I was asked my reason for going to the address, I said, “It’s for a job at the Boys and Girls Club. “Oh,” the woman on the phone replied with an apparent tinge of dread in her voice. She sympathized and told me if I took Wallkill Masters' Coach to a job five minutes from my house, I would have to pay $75.00 per day plus mileage. I explained that I had accepted the job on the premise that I would have transportation. I was then told to call another office. That office told me the same thing. I was told that ambulette service only covers medical visits or medical equipment shipping and that the Medicaid system does not pay for work-related transportation.
I spent the next three and a half hours on the phone with local transportation in the valley only to find that although there are five disabled transport services in my area, (four of which are approximately within a fifteen-mile radius) only the Town of Montgomery-Crawford Dial-A-Bus would be able to transport me. Not only is it currently the only service available, but the bus stops running at 4.00 p.m., so therefore, I would never be able to be picked up from a nine to five, standard, eight-hour work day. Why paratransit is not already mandated by law to run a corporate business schedule is beyond all logic to me.
The nation though it may not be perfect, was founded on the indelible principles set forth by Thomas Jefferson and our forefathers 235 years ago in our Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is in this vein that the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1991 was put into law: to say that if we are all born into this world as equal, if we believe this to be a universal truth beyond all race, religion, creed, class or sex, we must include those persons who have, through no intention of their own, been born with a particular kind of hardship to be overcome. In this vital sense, does the pursuit of our happiness not logically and without any doubt whatsoever include the means to earn a living wage? Does it not include the absolute right to access to travel during a standard business day? I, like you, have worked to overcome obstacles to have access to education, to go to college, to live life as normally as possible. I cite the following excerpt from the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 to point out a current flaw in the current “fixed route” rule as it pertains to reasonable access for persons with disabilities.
TITLE II, SUBTITLE B, SECTION 223. PARATRANSIT AS A COMPLEMENT TO FIXED ROUTE SERVICE. 42 USC 12143.
(a) General Rule. It shall be considered discrimination for purposes of section 202 of this Act and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. 794) for a public entity which operates a fixed route system (other than a system which provides solely commuter bus service) to fail to provide with respect to the operations of its fixed route system, in accordance with this section, paratransit and other special transportation services to individuals with disabilities, including individuals who use wheelchairs, that are sufficient to provide to such individuals a level of service (1) which is comparable to the level of designated public transportation services provided to individuals without disabilities using such system; or (2) in the case of response time, which is comparable, to the extent practicable, to the level of designated public transportation services provided to individuals without disabilities using such system.
Such a “fixed route” rule allows passengers’ work hours to be at the mercy of any fixed route chosen by the provider—and bear in mind being so with far fewer options then say, the New York City subway system with multiple trains and routes.
In my own case, the Town of Montgomery-Crawford Dial-A-Bus service stops running at 4.00 p.m. when in reality, the average worker would likely need it to run until 6:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. depending on how far the distance required to travel may be. In my previous letter to my town board, I asked and proposed to all relevant parties and town officials that disabled transport services and paratransit in the Town of Montgomery-Crawford be extended to run to accommodate 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. standard business hours within a fifteen-mile radius to allow fair and equal access to a living wage. I did this knowing that the rights to both transportation and earning a living are essential to any productive citizenry. It was, however, rejected in the reply I have attached to this document on the basis that, [local paratransit] is a fixed route service. I was handed the reply, “If we changed the hours to service you, others would surely ask for nighttime hours.”
The above consideration that the town would have to “change the hours for everyone” is the very point of my letter(s). If the sole purpose of handicapped-accessible transportation is to make those who need it more independent, then it is only sensible that paratransit in my town. and logically in the State of New York, run to accommodate the standard 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. business hours that so many workers likely including yourself or other officials maintain during your daily routine. I believe this with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind and all my strength. I therefore propose that there be a movement toward state-wide legislation to extend all paratransit to run during a standard 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. work day insomuch as to grant the basic human right of the right to access to gainful employment to those persons with disabilities who use paratransit.
I fully acknowledge that a proposal such as the above must be taken up by the State Legislature and ask that you forward my letter to all relevant parties. I write to you for no other reason but for my proposal to be seriously considered in sound democratic discernment.
In service to New York State and my country,
Wish me luck... and roll on!