KAILUA-KONA — With several West Hawaii Disability Legislative Forums already under her belt, Jeri Raymond has witnessed what public dialogue and community support can do for the problems facing those on the island with disabilities.
“Things are changing. There’s a lot of hope,” said Raymond, the Arc of Kona program director. “I’m 68 years young, and I’ve seen a lot of wonderful things happen. And this forum just gives hope and supports all the families involved.”
The annual forum will be held from 3:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 24 at Old Kona Airport Pavilion. West Hawaii citizens with disabilities, as well as their families and caregivers, will be front and center of the annual forum next week.
However, organizers of the forum want to encourage all community members to attend and talk to the panelists in order to find solutions to the problems those with disabilities in West Hawaii face.
The topics to be addressed encompass everything that needs improvement in order to make the lives of those with disabilities easier — transportation, employment, education, housing and health.
“It’s an incredible event,” Raymond said. “Last year, I think I had 10 family members call me and tell me how thankful they were. By having these events, it makes a difference in their lives.”
Slated to appear as part of the panel are Lt. Gov. Josh Green, Sen. Dru Kanuha, Rep. Nicole Lowen, Councilman Tim Richards, Councilwoman Karen Eoff, and Hawaii County Mass Transit administrator Brenda Carreira.
A proclamation from Gov. David Ige will also be read by his representative Susan Kim.
Last year’s forum was absent of legislators from both the county and state levels, which organizers attributed to the forum being held in the middle of last year’s election season.
“The family members the next morning were still thankful because they still had the resources and the support,” Raymond said.
With a representative from Mass Transit on the panel this year, organizers hope to emphasize the issue of lack of transportation options for those with special needs.
“They’re out there working in the employment field, and bottom line is, there is problems getting the transportation to Safeway or wherever they’re working,” Raymond said. “And a lot of the buses don’t run on holidays or Sundays, so they’re out of luck. It doesn’t work.”
Hawaii State Council on Developmental Disabilities program specialist Jesse Floyd said access to transportation for people with disabilities and lack of affordable housing in West Hawaii are the two most important issues that will be addressed at this year’s forum.
Floyd said paratransit, special public transportation for those with disabilities, now exists in East Hawaii, but not on the west side.
“Mass Transit set up a program in East Hawaii where people can call 24 hours ahead and there is a wheelchair accessible van that comes,” Floyd said. “And it will take them where they need to go, whether it’s a doctor’s appointment or shopping, wherever they need to go in the community.”
Floyd said it’s difficult for people with disabilities to access public transportation due to physical limitations. A paratransit system would allow individuals to better plan their time, especially when it comes to medical appointments.
“It also allows individuals to have more inclusion in the community because they’re able to have more choices when it comes to transportation,” Floyd said.
Floyd said he has seen improvements to transportation services since starting the annual public forum.
“After the first forum, I had a meeting with the former Mass Transit administrator in discussing issues with transportation services for people with disabilities,” Floyd said. “So, that’s one thing that came out of the forums — communication was improved between the community and mass transit.”