Hundreds of Iowans with disabilities rallied at the statehouse today (Wednesday) to urge legislators not to forget them in the state budget. James Alexander of Sibley suffers from a mental illness, but through a state-funded vocational rehabilitation program he was able to start his own business. It’s called Alexander’s Shuttle Service and he drives primarily elderly residents around — to places like the grocery store or to visit a relative.
“I’ve been disabled since 1984. I have paranoid schizophrenia, but one thing about my illness, I never lost my drivers license,” Alexander says. Alexander says he’s living proof that if state government makes a small investment, the disabled can contribute to society. Jenette Ophein (oh-PYN) of Milford is hearing impaired and suffers from depression. Her state assistance covers a psychiatric rehabilitation program that not only addresses her mental health needs, but teaches her job skills.
But she says transportation is a big issue for her because she lives in rural Iowa.
“For example, for me to go from Milford to Spencer to college to better my job skills, it’s like 24 dollars one-way,” Opheim says. By comparison, if she lived in the Des Moines area, she could get a 15-dollar, one-month bus pass to travel anywhere she wanted that’s on the bus line.
Ophein says state government needs to address that “discrepancy.” Advocates for the disabled warn legislators that counties will reduce services for Ophein and other mentally disabled Iowans unless state funding is increased.