Services expanding for people with disabilities in Columbia
McCluer North High School, Florissant, Mo.
As Columbia’s population has swollen from 80,000 to more than 100,000 in the last decade, services for people with disabilities are being expanded. And some agencies are seeing an increase in the use of these services.
For example, Oats Inc. offers free transportation four days a week to people with any type of disability, as well as the general public. According to Mayor Bob McDavid, this free system is devoted to transporting the disabled, which can be challenging in a town of more than 100,000 people.
“We want them (those with disabilities) to have the (same) access to Columbia that the mobile population has,” McDavid said.
Services for people with disabilities
2601 McGuire Blvd., Suite 103
Provides free transportation to people with disabilities and the transportation disadvantaged four days a week to meet their needs.
Alternative Community Training Inc.
2200 Burlington St.
Provides community living programs, an onsite recycling work program and an employment program to help those with disabilities find jobs.
Access Arts School of Service
1724 McAlester St.
Provides art classes including pottery, weaving and drawing for those with disabilities, as well as the financially disadvantaged and the general public. Scholarships are available.
Also, a $22 million federal grant is being used to pave park trails, so they are accessible for those in wheelchairs, McDavid said.
Another program that expands services for the disabled is Alternative Community Training Inc. It is a facility that helps those with developmental, cognitive and physical disabilities gain employment. It also has a community living program that allows clients to be assisted in their own homes.
The first service is an on-site recycling plastic program where those with developmental disabilities (disabilities that begin at an early age and continue indefinitely) can work.
With the growth of Columbia, there are waiting lists for acceptance at the training program. This means that there are many people in Columbia who want jobs but are denied the opportunity because of their disability, according to John Savage, director of employment services.
The second program, with the help of Vocational Rehabilitation, aids people with disabilities in finding jobs around the community. However, Savage said employers may not accept them into the job market because of misconceptions.
“Everyone has their preconceived notions of what disability is,” he said.
Also, Savage added that the job applicants are “perfectly capable” of doing the jobs they are referred for, if they are just given the opportunity. Because some businesses are wary of hiring people with disabilities, the ones that do get hired are often overqualified for their positions.
Savage said that businesses don’t always realize the advantages of hiring a disabled person, such as loyalty and reliability. If people with disabilities are seen more frequently in the workplace, then employers will see that the person with a disability can perform jobs just as well as able-bodied citizens.
“Ideally, we don’t want to need services like the ACT because people will automatically be accepted as equal employees,” Savage said.
The Access Arts School of Service also sees a future in expanding the services available for the disabled. Access Arts is a nonprofit organization catering to the physically and mentally disabled, as well as the financially disadvantaged, particularly children. Access Arts focuses on “making arts accessible to people with disabilities,” according to Executive Director Chris Sharp. Classes are offered for a fee, but about $13,000 worth of scholarships are given every year.
Art classes available to those with disabilities include pottery, weaving, jewelry-making, drawing and mixed media (collages, chalk, pastel, watercolors, etc). Access Arts also has the largest private weaving instructional program in the state with more than 80 looms and 30 students per class session.
In order to accommodate people with a disability in pottery and weaving classes, there is adaptive equipment that allows them to operate the wheels and looms. There is also adaptive curriculum for special needs classes to aid all types of disabilities.
According to Sharp, there are definite opportunities to expand and serve more people at the facility. Because Access Arts is nonprofit, it relies on grants from the state, as well as awards from the Missouri Arts Council. More organizations that help the disabled have been applying to receive funds, and Sharp said it is a positive sign that services for the disabled are being expanded to accommodate the growth of Columbia.
“I think the services for the disabled are increasing,” Sharp said. “The most notable thing for me is talking to the Missouri Arts Council. More organizations are applying for grants. That’s a good indicator.”