Commission on Disabilities

2008 Annual Report to the Board of Supervisors

Executive Summary

 

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This Summary provides an overview of topics the Commission believes to be of interest to the Board. Matters that require special attention are highlighted in bold italics. Each topic included in this summary is described in greater detail in the full report.

______________________________________________________________________

 

 

Services Provided to Persons with Disabilities in the County

 

The Commission Charter lists the following responsibility:

 

Evaluate services provided to persons with disabilities in the County and make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors based on conclusions.

 

In the current fiscal environment, significant funding reductions are anticipated in programs serving county residents with disabilities. The program reductions are expected to result in the displacement of some individuals from environments that have accommodated their disabilities. The health, wellbeing and safety of these individuals are of great concern to the Commission.

 

In order to evaluate services provided to persons with disabilities in the County and make recommendations to the Board, the Commission initiated a survey to a select group of organizations providing services to sectors of disability within the county.

 

The survey asked respondents to describe the populations they serve, the service needs of these populations, significant current unmet service needs, and the impact of any anticipated changes in program funding.

 

A summary analysis of survey responses will be provided to the Board at a later date.

 

 

County Policies and Practices

 

An assessment of County policies and programs, listed for review in the Commissionís charter, determined that most are in compliance with regulatory standards.

 

Three areas were identified where County programs have yet to fully address the requirements of residents with disabilities:

 

 

 

 

The Commission wishes to thank County department personnel for their genuine interest in addressing program areas that impact persons with disabilities.

 

 

Commission 2008 Projects

 

During 2008, the Commission initiated projects to achieve the following outcomes:

 

        The upgrade of the Commission home page to make it ADA compliant

        The publication of a public education brochure on accessible residential design

 

        The design and distribution of cards for reporting blue zone parking violations.

 

 

Commission 2008 Collaborations

 

 

 

 

Commission Focus Areas for 2009

 

The Commission has identified four initiatives to be undertaken in the coming year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

County of Santa Cruz

Commission on Disabilities

2008 Annual Report

 

 

I.                    Role of the Commission

 

The Commission on Disabilities is an advisory body to the Board of Supervisors on matters of concern to County residents with disabilities. The role of the Commission is described in County of Santa Cruz Ordinance 2.72.060 which lists the following as its powers and duties:

 

(a) Review existing County policies that affect persons with disabilities and make

recommendations to the Board of Supervisors regarding proposed changes;

 

(b) Review Sections 503 and 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and

its implementing regulations and advise the Board of Supervisors on any

actions necessary to bring the county into compliance with the federal

requirements and to eliminate discrimination against persons with disabilities;

 

(c) Review the provision of access for persons with disabilities to public places

within the County and recommend improvements where needed;

 

(d) Review the Countyís Affirmative Action Plan and policies and recommend to

the Board of Supervisors and Affirmative Action Commission any revisions

which may be necessary to eliminate employment discrimination against

persons with disabilities;

 

(e) Review the Countyís Personnel rules and job descriptions and make

recommendations to the Board of Supervisors and to the Civil Service

Commission, as necessary, to assure that any unnecessary barriers to

employment opportunities for persons with disabilities are removed;

 

(f) Advise the Board of Supervisors on any other appropriate programs and

actions which would increase employment opportunities for persons with

disabilities;

 

(g) Evaluate services provided to persons with disabilities in the County and make

recommendations to the Board of Supervisors based on their conclusions;

(h) Review requests by persons with disabilities or organizations for County assistance

and advise the Board of Supervisors;

(i) Investigate citizen complaints related to concerns of persons with disabilities and

make appropriate recommendations for action to the Board of Supervisors;

 

(j) Review Federal and State Legislation of interest to persons with disabilities and

advise the Board of Supervisors of their recommendations; and

 

(k) Exercise other responsibilities related to the needs and concerns of persons with disabilities in the County.

 

II.                 Meetings Dates, Time, and Location

 

During 2008, the Commission met on the second Thursday of each month, from 12:30 until 1:30 P.M., at 1400 Emeline Street, Room 206.

 

 

lll. Commission Structure

 

Each member of the Board of Supervisors appoints two members of the community to serve on the Commission. Each January the Commission elects a Chair and Vice Chair from its membership. During 2008, Charles Stone served as Chair and Joseph Quigg as Vice Chair.

  

District

Commissioners

1st District

Robert McGaw, Doug Patrick

2nd District

Aaron Spencer, Charles Stone

3rd District

Michael Bush, (Vacant*)

4th District

Jeanette Cosentino, Paul Ticknor

5th District

Peter Heylin, Joseph Quigg

 

*The death of Commissioner Arnecia Dynes left a vacancy for the 3rd District.

 

 

lV. Commission Staff

 

The Commission is supported by a Coordinator funded for ten hours per week. The Coordinator prepares meeting agendas and minutes, responds to questions and requests from the public, performs staff work in support of Commission projects, prepares Commission correspondence, manages records, and oversees meeting logistics. Mary Thuerwachter serves as Commission Coordinator. 

 

During the first half of 2008, Joseph Snyder, an intern, prepared summaries of pending legislation having the potential to impact individuals with disabilities.

 

 

V.  Attendance

 

Name

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Michael Bush

X

A

X

X

X

A

A

 

X

X

X

A

Jeanette Cosentino

X

X

A

X

A

X

X

 

X

X

X

A

Peter Heylin

X

X

X

A

X

A

X

 

X

X

X

X

Bob McGaw

X

A

X

A

X

X

X

 

X

X

X

X

Doug Patrick

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

 

X

X

X

X

Joseph Quigg

X

A

X

X

A

A

X

 

A

A

A

A

Aaron Spencer

X

X

A

X

X

X

X

 

A

A

A

A

Charles Stone

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

 

X

A

X

X

Paul Ticknor

X

A

X

X

X

X

A

 

A

X

X

X

Arnecia Dynes

X

A

D

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X= present A= excused absence D=deceased

 

 

During 2008, quorums of six Commissioners were not achieved in February and December. A planning retreat was held in August and no monthly meeting was scheduled.

 

 

Vl.  Annual Goals and Accomplishments

 

The Commission adopted the responsibilities listed in its Charter as its annual goals. The alphabetized sections that follow address each of these goals.

 

 

A. Review existing county policies that affect persons with disabilities and make

recommendations to the Board of Supervisors regarding any proposed

changes.

 

Sidewalk, Crosswalk and Traffic Signal Safety

 

The Commission has identified sidewalk access and safety as a priority for county policy reassessment.

 

In many neighborhoods homeowners have not maintained their sidewalks in safe and accessible condition. As a result, seniors and people with mobility challenges frequently encounter safety hazards and barriers to access.

 

The current County policy for addressing sidewalk safety and accessibility issues relies on citizen complaints and approaches the problem in an incremental way.

 

The Commission recommends a program that proactively audits sidewalk conditions, and requires property owners to take prompt action to correct safety and access issues.

 

The Commission considers the installation and upgrade of sidewalks, curb cuts, crosswalks and traffic signals to be important priorities if federal stimulus funds are made available for local public works projects.

 

 

B. Review Sections 503 and 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and

advise the Board of Supervisors on any actions necessary to bring the

County into compliance with federal requirements and to eliminate

discrimination against persons with disabilities

 

Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires federal contractors and subcontractors to take affirmative action to employ, and advance in employment, qualified individuals with disabilities.

 

For purposes of employment, qualified individuals with disabilities are persons who, with reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job for which they have applied or have been hired to perform.

 

Reasonable accommodation involves making adjustments or modifications in the work, job application process, work environment, job structure, equipment, or the way that the job duties are performed so that an individual can perform the essential functions of the job.

 

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 forbids organizations and employers from excluding or denying individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to receive program benefits and services.

 

Sections 503 and 504 provide a context for assessment of specific Commission charter directives presented later in this report. It is the Commissionís conclusion that the County has exercised due diligence in implementing and monitoring compliant programs.

 

 

C. Review the provision of access for persons with disabilities to public places

within the county and recommend improvements where needed.

 

Sidewalk, Crosswalk and Traffic Signal Safety

 

Sidewalk, crosswalk and traffic signal safety is addressed in Section A above. The Commission recommends the implementation of a proactive sidewalk maintenance program.

 

 

Access to Information on County Department Websites

 

With input from a member of the public, with expertise in webpage accessibility, the Commission conducted an audit the County main home page. Access issues were identified and the County Information Services Department was notified.

 

The Information Services Department responded that it is working on a webpage upgrade that will result in compliance with ADA guidelines. IS staff believe they can complete a conforming version of the webpage within six months.

 

In conjunction with this project, ISD staff will formulate webpage design guidelines for County departments.  

Information Services Department staff encouraged the Commission to continue its involvement as the project moves forward.

 

Commissioners will work with municipal jurisdictions within the county to assess their web pages for compliance with ADA guidelines.

 

 

Emergency Evacuation and Shelter Plan

 

Many county residents with disabilities will be unable respond to emergencies requiring evacuation and sheltering without the focused support of response teams. Interruption of power sources, access routes and support services will create significant health and safety exposures that make prompt and effective response essential. The implementation of this plan, with regular audits for quality assurance, is a major concern of county residents with disabilities.

 

The California Department of Social Services has selected the County of Santa Cruz, as well as 11 other counties to participate in the development of a Mass Care and Shelter Plan for the Elderly and Disabled.

 

The Human Services Department and Office of Emergency Services are the lead County agencies involved in the project and are tasked with coordinating with other public, non profit and private agencies and businesses. Commission members have participated in planning sessions.

Once the planning group is finished with the draft Plan, comments will be solicited from all of the County agencies involved. It is anticipated that the plan will be ready for review by June of 2009.

 

The evacuation plan will require on going maintenance and will be tested periodically during disaster exercises.

 

 

Access to County Facilities

 

Removal of barriers for public access to County facilities has been a sustained focus for the General Services and Parks Departments. Their department pages in the County Equal Employment Opportunity and Cultural Competence Plan list barriers that are targeted for elimination. Good progress has been made.

 

 

D. Review the Countyís Equal Employment Opportunity and Cultural

Competence Plan and policies and recommend to the Board of Supervisors,

and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, any revisions which may

be necessary to eliminate employment discrimination against persons with

disabilities.

 

The privacy provisions of EEO legislation entitle applicants and employees to withhold disclosure of their race, ethnicity and disabilities. Because employees often choose not to disclose their disabilities, the County is unable to collect data that permits accurate comparison of the incidence of disability in its workforce to that of the available labor force. The County addresses this uncertainty by continuing to exercise due diligence in its efforts to recruit, select, train and support persons with disabilities.

 

EEO and Employment Services staffs continue to develop partnerships with agencies that counsel and refer persons with disabilities for employment. Their intent is to ensure that application and testing processes are well understood and that applicants are able to understand the potential for their disabilities to be accommodated in various categories of County employment.

 

 

E. Review the County personnel rules and job descriptions and make

recommendations to the Board of Supervisors, and to the Civil Service

Commission, as necessary, to assure that any unnecessary barriers to

employment of persons with disabilities are removed.

 

As referenced in Section B above, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires federal contractors and subcontractors to take affirmative action to employ, and advance in employment, qualified individuals with disabilities. Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities who can perform the essential functions of the job for which they have applied, or been hired.

 

Job descriptions and personnel rules are important tools in bringing focus to the essential functions of a job and in determining if an individualís disabilities can be reasonably accommodated. In making this determination, an employer must consider modifications to the work, job application process, work environment, job structure, equipment, and the manner in which the job duties are performed.

 

The County has been conscientious in assessing the essential functions of its jobs and in modifying job descriptions to reflect these findings. To further ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities are not excluded, the County EEO Officer reviews all instances where the ability to accommodate is in doubt. Personnel rules relating to recruiting and employment of persons with disabilities conform to current law.

 

 

F. Advise the Board of Supervisors on any other appropriate programs and

actions which would increase employment opportunities for persons with

disabilities.

 

As this report is written, in January of 2009, the County has experienced a significant reduction in force and has discontinued recruitment for most job classifications. Rehire lists will be the primary source for filling vacancies for some time. This greatly reduces the potential for hiring new employees who have disabilities.

 

The Countyís Volunteer Initiative Program will continue to recruit persons with disabilities, as volunteers and interns, in capacities that are within the scope of the program and consistent with negotiated labor agreements.

 

 

G. Evaluate services provided to persons with disabilities in the County and

make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors based on their

conclusions.

 

 

Commission Survey and Collaboration

 

In the current funding environment, the Commission believes it important to provide the Board with perspectives of the sufficiency of current services and the anticipated impacts of reduced program funding.

 

The resources needed to conduct a comprehensive assessment of services provided to county residents with disabilities are not in place. The Commission designed a survey to obtain the perspectives of organizations serving major populations of county residents with disabilities.

 

An analysis of survey responses will be provided to the Board at a later date.

 

 

Commission Concerns Regarding Reductions in Services

 

In the current fiscal environment, significant reductions in funding are anticipated in programs serving county residents with disabilities. The reductions are expected to result in the displacement of some individuals from environments that have accommodated their disabilities. The health, wellbeing and safety of these individuals are of great concern to the Commission.

 

Most individual care and support plans must rely heavily on services provided by public agencies and private non-profit organizations. Individual plans to secure and sustain required services are often made up of interdependent components. Service reductions that impact one component of a plan may render the entire plan inoperable.

 

A large percentage of people with significant disabilities have limited financial resources to compensate for reductions in essential services. Disabilities often restrict employment, and those eligible for government benefits do not have funds needed for significant expenditures on care. Those not eligible for government benefits have few options.

 

Individuals with disabilities are challenged in assembling support resources to address their specific needs. Disabilities that impact energy level, mobility, communication or cognitive level, often limit ability to initiate and sustain effective self-advocacy.

 

Family members and friends are often essential components of networks to sustain individuals in environments that address requirements of the disabilities. The nature of a disability and required hours of care often result in high levels of stress for caregivers and other members of support networks. Respite and counseling are often critical components of a sustainable care plan. Funding reductions that result in the elimination of these services could overwhelm the capacity of these support networks to continue.

 

H. Review requests by persons with disabilities, or organizations, for County

assistance and advise the Board of Supervisors on appropriate actions.

 

The Commissionís Coordinator receives requests from county residents for information, and referral to agencies that address specific needs. The coordinator must determine the nature of these needs and identify agencies providing services for which the individual is eligible.

 

If the contact has a significant issue with a County policy, program, or practice, the matter is referred to the full Commission for consideration. If the Commission determines that resolution of the issue requires the attention of a County department or the Board, a referral is made.

 

The Commission addresses two of the referred issues in this report. Sidewalk, crosswalk and traffic signal safety is addressed in Section A; access to information on County websites is addressed in Section C.

 

 

I. Investigate citizen complaints relating to concerns of person with disabilities

and recommend appropriate actions to the Board of Supervisors.

Members of the community bring issues to the attention of the Commission on a regular basis. Commissioner efforts to address policy and program issues that occur outside of regular Commission meetings are done on a volunteer basis. A typical process involves contacting concerned parties, gathering information, clarifying issues, and supporting actions to achieve a resolution.

 

The following is a list of citizen complaints, and outcomes, addressed by Commissioners during 2008:

 

        The owner of a van, who has a disability, was cited by a City of Santa Cruz parking enforcement officer for parking outside of the boundaries of a designated space. The van owner contended that the space was improperly designed and that he could not otherwise exit his vehicle. A Commissioner contacted the City of Santa Cruz and, following their investigation, it was decided to withdraw the citation. In the course of the investigation it was determined that newly-passed State legislation permits an appropriately marked van to occupy two spaces when it is necessary for the safe exit and entrance by an individual who requires the use of a ramp.

 

        The Commission received a complaint about lack of disabled parking for the new Watsonville Civic Center and Library. An investigation determined that sufficient parking was available but signage did not adequately indicate its location. The City of Watsonville agreed to promptly address the matter.

 

        A member of the community reported that handrails, necessary for the safe passage of seniors, persons with disabilities, and the general public, were not installed at the UCSC Performing Arts Center. The Commission contacted the University and has been asked to work with them in arriving at a solution. The Commission was able to refer University staff to the management of the Berkeley Rep Theater, which has a similar configuration and has installed handrails in a manner that does not impede traffic. The Commission will continue to monitor progress.

 

        A member of the Commission expressed concern regarding a proposal before the Coastal Commission to eliminate of RV parking at Twin Lakes Beach. His inquiries to law enforcement agencies determined that vehicles displaying a disability placards would not be exempt from the prohibition. The concern was that an inability to park would bar individuals with significant mobility and energy challenges from accessing the beach and adjacent areas. The Commission sent a letter to the Coastal Commission expressing this concern.

        Two members of the public expressed concern about a lack of accessible entry to the Porter Library in Soquel. The Porter Library is a private institution that relies on grants and donations. It building has a historic designation. A Commissioner contacted the Chair of the Library Board. The Library is interested in making the necessary modifications but lacks resources. The Library Chair and the Commissioner are currently pursuing contributions of labor and material to complete the work.

 

        A consumer complained that bicycles were regularly chained to the handrail of the disability access ramp at Peopleís Coffee. A Commissioner investigated and management agreed to address the problem. The Commissioner was able to refer the manager to the Regional Transportation Commission to obtain a free bike rack. The rack is now installed, away from the ramp, and management is continuing to monitor ramp obstructions.

 

        A member of the public and a Commissioner described impressions that the Central Coast Center for Independent Living was no longer providing outreach services at levels it had in the past. An additional concern was the level of service provided by staff members with limited experience. Commissioners met with CCCIL management to obtain its assessment of the reported problems and, if accurate, the circumstances that brought them about. CCCIL has budget challenges and continues to seek funding. It has been required to reduce staff and levels of service. CCCIL continues to participate in a wide range of community initiatives and brings valuable knowledge and experience to the table. The Commission will look for opportunities to support CCCIL efforts to address unmet community needs.

 

        The Commission received a copy of a letter sent to Santa Cruz Metro. Its author described a situation in which a driver had refused to deliver a woman to a second destination when it was learned that the medical provider at her initial destination had relocated.

 

A Metro representative attended a Commission meeting to describe how the matter was resolved. Metro has designated managers to be consulted to ensure that passengers are delivered to destinations where they can be appropriately supported.

 

The Commission expressed concern that some passengers will have cognitive and communication limitations that will make it difficult for them to articulate their needs. Drivers must be trained to recognize when passenger needs are not being met and when it is appropriate to direct questions to the designated managers.

 

        A member of the community attended a Commission meeting to express concern about shopping carts being frequently left in the disability-striped crosswalk areas of parking lots. The carts block access for persons with disabilities as they travel to and from their destinations. She advocated for more education regarding this issue, improved signage, and more conspicuous ways of painting the crosswalks to alert the public to their purpose. The Commission will address this issue in the coming year.

 

 

J. Review federal and state legislation of interest to persons with disabilities and

advise the Board of Supervisors of their recommendation.

 

As this report is written, the major legislative focus of persons with disabilities is the anticipated reduction in State and federal funding that may threaten their ability to obtain services needed to sustain health, safety and degree of independence.

 

The budget crisis is such that both existing programs, and those proposed in pending legislation, are at risk.

 

In March of 2008, your Board, through Chair Ellen Pirie, requested that the Commission on Disabilities comment on the then proposed state budget that provided for 10% across-the- board cuts. The Commission prepared a letter of response, dated April 10, 2008 expressing both its strong opposition to the proposal and support for your Boards position backing the Legislative Analystís Office Alternative Budget.

 

 

K. Exercise other responsibilities related to the needs and concerns of persons

with disabilities in the county.

 

The Commissionís 2008 projects are described below:

 

Service Agency Survey

 

        A survey was conducted to determine current service coverage for people with disabilities and the anticipated impact of changes in funding.

        The survey project is described in Section G above.

 

Accessibility Projects

 

        Sidewalk, Crosswalk and Traffic Signal Safety

        Access to Information on County Websites

        Emergency Evacuation and Shelter Plan

        Access to County Facilities

        The projects involving accessibility are described above in Sections A and C.

 

 

Public Education Projects

 

        Accessible Residential Design Checklist Brochure

 

Commission members researched, wrote and published this public education brochure with the support of the County Planning Department.

 

Commissioners introduced the brochure to the building officials, in each of the Countyís four cities, who have indicated interest in adopting a similar publication.

 

        Blue Zone Parking Notification Card

 

Commissioners developed a small card listing the phone numbers of law enforcement agencies to call when parking spaces, intended for persons with disabilities, are occupied by illegally parked vehicles.

 

Law enforcement agencies advised the Commissioners on the cardís design.

The card has been made available to individuals and organizations serving persons with disabilities.

 

        The United Way Community Assessment Project

 

The Disabilities section of the United Way CAP project includes demographic and survey information regarding individuals with disabilities in Santa Cruz County.

 

A project team, that includes representatives from the Commission, Imagine Supported Living and Applied Survey Research, determined content, solicited information from participants, and edited the data submitted.

 

 

Commissioner Network

 

Commissioners serve on a number other commissions, boards and committees that provide opportunity for increased knowledge of community needs and the resources to address them.

 

 

VII.            Future Goals and Recommendations

 

The Commission on Disabilities has limited resources to undertake major projects. As it identifies the need for a major initiatives it must partner with service agencies and other advisory boards to develop and implement programs that address the needs of persons with disabilities.

 

Members of the Commission have expressed interest in pursuing the following initiatives in 2009. In each case a collaborative effort with partner organizations will be required.

 

Population and Services Information Initiative

 

The Commission on Disabilitiesí limited survey of service agencies is one of the initial stages of this project. It builds on the population data gathered in the United Way sponsored Community Assessment Project and seeks to determine the extent to which current services address the needs of their target populations. It also seeks to understand the impact of changes in funding on coverage and levels of services.

 

The information developed through this project would be a foundation for informed discussion of the needs of citizens with disabilities in Santa Cruz County. It will provide a systematic process for identifying and quantifying unmet service needs and their impact on consumers. It will be useful in clarifying funding priorities and refining the focus of on-going programs.

 

In the coming year, the Commission will seek to broaden participation in project design, planning and administration.

 

 

Public Education Initiative

 

In addressing the challenges of disability, there is a need to explore the ways in which disabilities are perceived by the public and how these perceptions impact individuals with disabilities as they pursue their goals. We believe that the necessary levels of understanding and identification best occur through programs in which individuals with disabilities are visible and have a central role in telling their own stories.

 

The education role is implicit in the charters of the organizations that fund and provide services to people with disabilities. The Commission is positioned to be a catalyst in the development of a community education collaborative.

 

In conjunction with our survey requesting data from agencies providing services to county residents with disabilities, we have asked the agencies to describe current initiatives to increase public awareness and understanding of the perspectives and challenges of those they serve.

 

Our intent is to encourage organizations to understand the importance of public education programs to those they serve.

 

There may be potential to collaborate in the development of public education resources that will support a coordinated information program.

 

A team of Commissioners has initiated contact with local media and educational institutions to identify and develop public service programs on disability topics.

 

Web Accessibility Initiative

 

The Commissionís Web Accessibility sub-committee will continue to work with the County Information Services Department to upgrade County supported web sites with standard guidelines for web accessibility.

 

In addition, web sites for the countyís municipal entities will be evaluated for compliance with these guidelines. Where barriers to access are detected, the Commission sub-committee will initiate a dialogue with the municipality to address the problems.

 

 

  Community Forum Blog Initiative

 

Commissioners are currently seeking to locate community resources for development and sponsorship of a local blog for the sharing of perspectives, ideas and information by individuals with interests in disability related topics.