Around 15 people with disabilities, as well as care givers had the opportunity to voice their concerns to representatives of different government agencies about services during a town hall meeting on compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The panel, sponsored by the Office of the Governor, was comprised of representatives from the V.I. Departments of Labor, Health, Human Services, Education, Public Works, and the Division of Personnel. Jamila Russell, territorial ADA coordinator, moderated the meeting.
During the first hour of the two-hour meeting Friday, agency representatives told the residents gathered in the Great Hall at the University of the Virgin Islands what services were available to them. The second hour of the meeting was opened up for questions from the audience.
Acting Labor Commissioner Catherine Hendry said her department provides employment training and full access to all services for people with disabilities.
“Employment allows people with disabilities self-sufficiency,” Hendry said.
The Department of Labor provides occupational skills training and programs for certifications. The customer service representatives conduct testing and assessments to see what jobs the clients are best suited for. Access to the office is ADA compliant.
Dwayne Howell, Department of Health assistant commissioner, spoke about the special needs shelter set up during hurricanes at Charles Harwood for bed-bound people. He said the mobile health unit will be out in the community allowing people more access to health care.
Edna Toussaint, from the Department of Human Services, said her staff assists people in attaining employment and with vocational rehab to get ready for work.
Averil George, from the Division of Personnel, said they assist people with the application process for different employment positions in the government.
Public Works ADA Coordinator Heather Proctor said VITRAN promotes safe, reliable, cost efficient transportation accessible to people with disabilities. She said there are lifts on all the VITRAN busses that hold up to 1,000 pounds. She said there are para transit busses with curb-to-curb service, even on Saturdays — going beyond what is required. The services are provided with advance reservations. There is also a subscription service available for those who need the service a few times a week for things such as work, physical therapy or dialysis treatment.
Frank Taylor, disabled after being hit by a truck, said people have to be their own advocates.
“People have to make sure they ask questions and listen to suggestions,” Taylor said.
One of the first concerns brought up was the condition of the curbs, ramps and uneven sidewalks in Christiansted, and the lack of handicap parking.
Russell said she recently took a walk with DPW representatives on Company Street to see what the conditions were for handicap accessibility. She said they would look at what improvements could be made.
Another concern was the lack of interpreters for the hearing impaired at the Department of Education and the Department of Labor.
Russell explained she understands the need for interpreters and would see if they can get interpreters on call for the different offices.
The mother of a disabled 20-year-old man said she was disappointed there weren’t any summer programs for adults with disabilities as they have had in the past. She said she would like to see a recreation center or something set up where her son can get additional training to get a job, so she won’t have to hire a babysitter.
Russell said they have to prioritize and begin discussions so no one is left behind.
She added she can’t address issues unless she knows about them and she encouraged people to call her office at 340-772-1000. She said her department will address all concerns and bring them to the governor.
Russell said her office will be airing public service announcements informing the community of the rights, services and how to access the services available to people with disabilities. She said people should come to her department with their grievances to go through the process to correct the problems that exist.
Town hall meetings will also be held on St. Thomas and St. John.
Russell said the Mapp-Potter Administration is committed to inclusion for all Virgin Islanders.