By Merlene Davisat 12:00am on Aug 2, 2009— Herald-Leader columnistModified at 6:39am on Aug 2, 2009
If President Barack Obama had invited members of the physically disabled community in Lexington to have a beer with him late one evening at a local pub, many of them would have had to decline. Or, if one of the disabled was offered a third-shift job that starts after bus service stops, they would have to pass on it. Those who depend on LexTran or the Red Cross Wheels service — which stop running at midnight on some routes and as early as 6 p.m. on others — must rely on taxis or friends and families to travel after those hours. Shouldn't a community like ours ensure access for all its citizens to all available events or employment opportunities? Project Easy Access Lexington and the Latitude Artist Community believe we should.
The organizations are hosting the "Stay Out Late Rally," planned for Triangle Park from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday. The aim is to highlight the lack of affordable transportation in Lexington after hours.
John Glisson, a counselor at Independence Place which offers services to disabled people, is blind.
"At my age, I don't stay out late," he said. "But I do feel for the younger folks who want to experience the fullness of their community."
His dilemma as a counselor is that he can't rush through a session because he has three minutes to catch the last bus or Wheels. "I can't just get up and leave," Glisson said.
Advocates, government representatives and others hope to bring more attention to a problem we may have overlooked.
"What we want is something that people with disabilities have just come to realize we can have," said Bruce Burris, co-founder of Latitude who has been an advocate for the disabled for 30 years.
Unfortunately, those changes require money that cash-strapped government agencies just don't have.
Nonetheless, five people from Lexington headed for Washington, D.C. in July to learn how other communities have solved their access and transportation problems. The group, comprised of advocates and government officials, are devising an action plan that can be put in place at the first opportunity.
Morry LaTour, president of the Blue Grass Council of the Blind, chairman of the Mayor's Commission for Citizens with Disabilities and one of the five on the D.C. trip, said we all need to make that happen.
"There just needs to be some kind of transportation network in the Lexington-Fayette County area," said LaTour who is legally blind. "Public or private, service oriented or institutions, all working together where it could be benefiting to all people with disabilities."
That network could be in the form of a call center that can take individual transportation requests and provide the service when it's needed, LaTour said.
Cabs are always available, but they are not always financially feasible, he said.
Other communities provide the disabled with debit cards that can be used for transportation as they choose, LaTour said. It could be bus services during the day and cab services as night. The cards are supplemented by government funding.
"They call, set up their need and it is deducted from their card," he said. "It allows people who are not as well off financially to get out and enjoy some of the night's entertainment."
LaTour said he uses ITN Bluegrass, a 24-hour transportation service geared toward older residents and the visually impaired.
Gale Reece, ITN Bluegrass executive director, said the service can serve an adult in a wheelchair as long as the chair is collapsible and the adult is age 60 or older, or at least 18 and visually impaired. They must be able to transfer their weight from the chair to an automobile, she said.
Although that service is convenient, it costs $3 for pick-up and $1.50 per mile. There is also a $50 membership fee.
Some people can't afford that every day.
Although he knows the funding is not available now, LaTour said Lexington needs to "create a more positive and pleasant transportation network for this community."
David Riggins, director of community affairs at LexTran, said LexTran is willing to work with the disabled community to provide for their transportation needs. LexTran buses are equipped with wheelchair lifts and the Red Cross Wheels service, which LexTran operates, is an on-demand door-to-door service for the elderly and disabled. Both have the same operating hours.
LexTran costs 50 cents one way for the elderly and disabled with an identification card. Wheels costs $1.60.
"We're open to talking with anyone about service," Riggins said. "But it will depend on demand."
The need for after-hour service has not come up in formal discussions, he said.
"Demand equals service around here," Riggins said. "They kinda work together."
It is difficult to determine how many people would use the service, Burris said. But before the public was informed about community gardens, we couldn't have guessed we'd now have as many as we do in Lexington.