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Walk and Roll for Public Transportation

This Friday, July 26, is the 23rd anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The law, signed in 1990 by President George H. W. Bush, was designed to afford protections for people with “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity” against discrimination.

The Self-Advocacy Association of New York State (SANYS), along with VOICE Buffalo and the Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope (NOAH), are organizing a walk/roll from Southgate Plaza to the New York State Developmental Disabilities Regional Office (DDRO) at 1200 East and West Road in West Seneca at noon on Friday. The event is being held to draw attention to the fact that paratransit service along this 1.6-mile route is scheduled to be cut by the Niagara Frontier Transit Authority (NFTA) on November 1, resulting in $53,800 in savings for the authority per year.

Currently about 22 disabled individuals rely on the 8:30am dropoff at DDRO in order to arrive at their jobs or to get training. At 4:30pm, they catch the paratransit bus home. If the end of the line stops at Southgate Plaza as proposed, these individuals will have to walk or take their wheelchairs for the remainder of the trip—over a bridge and half a mile down Union Road, then a mile on East and West Road where there are no sidewalks, and only a narrow paved shoulder—in all kinds of weather.

Michael Rogers, the grassroots organizer for SANYS, describes how difficult it was for him to navigate the route in his motorized wheelchair. “I had gotten stuck, and luckily a passer-by was able to help. Otherwise, I would have been on the phone to the authorities. Or, I would have become road-hamburger.”

As the nation struggles with unemployment numbers around 10 percent in the general population, it is sobering to learn that unemployment among our disabled population is around 70 percent. In the face of these daunting odds, the New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities is challenged to land jobs for 800 disabled people by July 2014 in order to secure vital federal funding. Without appropriate transportation for people with disabilities, this goal will not be met.

Local advocates report that they have been gaining traction with the NFTA on this issue, and several top officials have been working with them to figure out solutions to the problem. It all boils down to funding.

As Marie Malinowski, co-chair of Transit Riders United and co-chair of SANYS puts it: “This is our lives. This is what we’re fighting for.”

If you’d like to take part in the Freedom Walk & Roll to show the NFTA what happens to our neighbors when bus service is cut, participants will meet in front of Assemblyman Mickey Kearns’s office at 1074 Union Road, West Seneca. At noon, the trek will commence from Southgate Plaza to DDRO, 1200 East and West Road, Building 16. There, from 1pm to 4:30pm, there will be a video presentation, ADA Celebration, and a petition and letter signing. If participants need a ride back to Southgate Plaza, that will be arranged as well.

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