Sunday, January 14, 2001

Survey isolates feelings


Many disabled say community groups fail to reach out

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        Everyone has known the feeling of being isolated or excluded at least once in a life.

        Maybe you were the new kid on the playground and weren't invited to join the game. Maybe you have been the newest employee and had trouble breaking into a tight circle. Or maybe you married into a family that took a long time to remember to extend invitations in your direction.

        If we want to make the Tristate a more equitable community for all, an online Harris survey of community participation by people with and without disabilities, released by the National Organization on Disability (NOD) can offer guidance.

        Among other areas, the survey examined levels of participation in religious services, local politics, cultural events and community services. While some results were more similar than not among the two groups, people with disabilities were more likely to say that they felt isolated or left out of community activities.

        People with disabilities fell consistently behind their non-disabled peers, but the most dramatic and ironic difference was found in regard to community service organizations.

        Some 81 percent of people with disabilities, compared with 67 percent of people without disabilities, said that they do not par ticipate in or avail themselves of services provided by community organizations. People with disabilities were much more aware than their non-disabled peers of such services, but tended to be less satisfied with past experiences and to feel a lack of encouragement from organizations to offer themselves as volunteers.

        Employment seemed to bring the two groups closer together. For example, people with and without disabilities who were employed offered time as a leading excuse for not volunteering. People with disabilities who were unemployed, however, said lack of encouragement was the No. 1 reason for not volunteering and rarely ranked time as an issue.

        Overall, whether employed or unemployed, young or old, people with disabilities reported feeling more isolated and apart from community activities. There are both tangible and intangible explanations for this difference.

        Certainly, people with disabilities have more limited transportation to get to community activities. People with disabilities often have limited access to information regarding community activities — being unable to read a church bulletin about the spaghetti dinner, for instance, or unable to hear an announcement. If unemployed, purchasing tickets to cultural events can be cost prohibitive.

        The most significant reasons for the discrepancies, though, seem to be the invisible sort that can't be addressed by job fairs or mass transit. Fear, discomfort, and lack of understanding were cited as probable causes for the sense of isolation. In other words, while waiting for improved transportation and employment opportunities, there are improvements that can be made right here to make access to our community an equal opportunity experience.

        Community service organizations could make a more concerted effort to reach out to “consumers” as not only recipients but donors. Volunteering is a powerful tool for connecting people with others in the community, and many talented volunteers are being overlooked by the very organizations who should know most about them. Religious communities and civic organizations could help bridge the transportation gap by being the source of assistance.

        A non-profit group using grant money to buy a van and hire a driver can offer transportation to disabled clients and volunteers. A religious congregation can share transportation to members unable to drive.

        Here in the Tristate, one excellent source of information on making our community inviting for all is the Inclusion Network. Call 621-7500 for more information.

        For a copy of the NOD/Harris survey on community involvement, visit the NOD Web site at www.nod.org.
       Cincinnati writer Deborah Kendrick is a nationally recognized advocate for people with disabilities. Write her at Cincinnati Enquirer, Tempo, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202. E-mail: dkendrick@enquirer.com.
       

       



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