Needs Assessment Shows Collaborative Work Will Make the Lehigh Valley More Disability Friendly
18-Month Survey Conducted of People with Disabilities and Their Caregivers
BETHLEHEM TOWNSHIP, PA – In the Lehigh Valley, people with disabilities are an important part of the cultural, political and economic vibrancy of our community. But according to the results of an 18-month study, there is a need for greater community awareness and education about people with disabilities. In addition, the survey showed that people with disabilities and their caregivers have many unmet needs, including information about resources and accessibility in housing, transportation and employment. Across most areas of need, the greatest challenge to living fully with disabilities is related to income.
More than 100 people heard the results of a Needs Assessment Survey presented today – the International Day of Persons with Disabilities -- by the Lehigh Valley Research Consortium (LVRC) during a Community Forum at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem Township.
The Community Forum was sponsored by the Partnership for a Disability Friendly Community, a group of individuals and organizations (civic, business, religious and social service) dedicated to improving personal, social and work environments for people living with disabilities, by building on the rich resources that already exist in the Lehigh Valley.
The Partnership supported the Lehigh Valley Research Consortium’s multi-faceted research, which was conducted January 2008 through April 2009. The goal of the research was to gather information that would assist the Lehigh Valley in becoming more accessible and inclusive of people with disabilities. The research involved the collection of qualitative and quantitative data and included surveys and focus groups of people with disabilities, their caregivers and providers of services to people with disabilities. Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network, a member of the Partnership, covered the cost of conducting the research.
Some key findings of the research presented at the Community Forum are as follows:
* Income: The finding from the study suggested that income may be the most significant obstacle for people with disabilities, especially for people with physical/mobility, mental and communication-related disabilities. For many, the confluence of being a person with a disability and having low income is an insurmountable barrier to full participation in the community. Income is linked to employment, education, transportation and housing issues, as well as to the likelihood that an individual with a disability is engaged in community life.
* People with Physical/Mobility Disabilities: Those with physical/mobility disabilities reported greater inclusiveness and more positive feelings regarding community involvement and connectedness than individuals with other types of disabilities. One important exception is that individuals with physical/mobility disabilities were more likely to report trouble with transportation, with adequate accessible parking, with access to buildings and with access to technology and assistive devices.
* People with Mental Disabilities: Individuals with mental disabilities reported higher levels of community disengagement and disaffectedness as compared to individuals with other types of disabilities. Those with mental disabilities also reported lower levels of access to information and referrals (for housing, for example), greater worries about being unprepared for the future, negative attitudes about community perceptions and lower overall self-perceived well-being.
* Caregivers: The health and well-being of people with disabilities is closely connected to the health and well-being of their caregivers and family members. Although many caregivers said they are doing a good job juggling work and family, they reported having little time for themselves and inadequate resources to help balance care-giving responsibilities. In addition, caregivers who are responsible for transportation for an individual with a disability reported greater difficulty finding enough time for personal rest and greater reluctance in asking for help.
* Health care issues: Survey respondents generally were satisfied with access to and the quality of health care they receive. They were less satisfied with access to affordable health insurance, the affordability of prescriptions and with available information about health services and resources, including fitness and exercise options. Many respondents said they never or rarely exercise, which is linked to transportation, income and housing needs.
* Housing: A clear majority of respondents said that their current housing meets their needs. A large majority of those who said their current housing does not meet their needs also said they did not know where to look for information about safe, accessible and affordable housing.
* Schools: Lehigh Valley schools received “high marks” – especially from individuals with physical/mobility disabilities -- for providing accommodations and social opportunities for students with disabilities. In contrast, the study showed that area schools are not doing as well serving students with sensory disabilities, mental disabilities, brain injury disabilities and chronic illnesses. The survey results showed that for these groups, there was a lack of effort among schools to foster disability awareness, provide assistive technologies and foster social interactions between students with disabilities and those without disabilities.
The Partnership is the start of a long-term effort to build a more disability friendly community by creating a coalition of organizations, civic and business leaders and citizens.
“The goal of the research was to gather information about unmet needs and service gaps in the Lehigh Valley,” says Nelvin Vos, Ph.D., a founding member of the Partnership. “The key findings presented today will provide the impetus to develop action plans based on the research results. The Partnership plans to review best practices from other communities in addressing similar unmet needs for people with disabilities.”
Anyone interested in learning more about the survey results or joining the Partnership for a Disability Friendly Community should contact Cynthia Lambert, vice president of Government and Community Relations, Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network, at 610-776-3323 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lehigh Valley Research Consortium
The Lehigh Valley Research Consortium (LVRC) is a collaboration among academic researchers, public officials, non-profits and business groups throughout the Lehigh Valley, which has come together to examine social, political, economic, health and environmental issues and solutions in a regional context. Recognizing our growing regional identity, our vision of the LVRC is to create a nationally recognized regional research collaboration that provides empirical data and analysis to Lehigh Valley governments, non-profits, businesses, citizens, and scholars, fostering resilience in the entire region, while enhancing the quality of teaching and the classroom learning experience for all regional colleges and universities. For more information on LVRC, visit www.lehighvalleyresearch.org.