Today I attended NC Policy Watch’s Crucial Conversation on transportation. In the world of disability policy, transportation is one of the most complex topics on the agenda.
It was gratifying to know that this is true of transportation policy in general. With thousands of new people every year immigrating to our state, a major problem is the lack of a short or a long range plan to handle the added congestion. The panelists discussed how to plan community growth and transportation at the same time, including how to maintain our current roadways while looking for alternative transportation solutions. Mentioned often during this event was the reality that the Federal Highway Trust Fund is facing bankruptcy and the ongoing debate regarding the use of the General Fund to support North Carolina’s Highway Trust Fund. Then there was the discussion of the light rail in Charlotte, which is opening in a few weeks, and the economic development that is occurring around the rail area.
Noticeably missing from this important conversation was a discussion on accessible transportation needs. Our state is home to 1.8 million people with disabilities. North Carolina is also home to some of the largest military bases in our nation, and that means there is a growing population of disabled veterans. Our state also passed broad legislation, Developmental Disability/Mental Health/Substance Abuse Service Reform, which began the movement of people with disabilities out of institutions and into communities. With all of these factors to consider, only once was there a mention of accessible transportation by any of the four panelists.
Affordable, reliable and accessible transportation options are a major component in community inclusion for people with disabilities. They are integral to securing equitable employment opportunities. Accessible transportation and affordable housing options are the building blocks for a successful transition to independence for a person with a developmental disability. It is time that leaders in our state look at the broader picture. If DD/MH/SAS System Reform is to be a success, if we are truly going to create sustainable and inclusive options for people with disabilities, and if we are going to really invest in supported employment options, people with disabilities must be included in the discussion on transportation infrastructure.