By Richard A. Courtney, CELA

Accessible transportation is central to quality of life for individuals with disabilities. Unfortunately, it’s just one more public service that has fallen victim to budget-cutting. I know that what I’m observing here in Jackson, Mississippi, is replicated throughout the U.S. Too few routes and wheelchair-accessible buses to support a growing population of people with special needs. Here, for instance, buses with handicap access only operate within city limits. If you live in the suburbs, you’re out of luck.

The implications of this transportation shortage are significant. Our local Medicaid office, for example, requires face-to-face interviews. For people with disabilities, being able to reach centers where they can learn about support services, then sign up and receive them is a matter of survival.

Transportation affects the ability to hold down a job, attend a movie or meet with friends. Individuals with special needs want to be as independent as possible, not reliant upon a caregiver’s schedule. If family members must provide all transport, it may add considerably to their responsibilities and stress. Neighbors and friends may be concerned about opening themselves to liability in the event of accident or injury. The result can be a life of increasing isolation.

Given that funding is unlikely to improve in the foreseeable future, families should consider providing for transportation expenditures with a special needs trust (SNT). SNTs can pay expenses not covered by government programs without endangering eligibility for public benefits. Unfortunately, cutbacks to Medicaid and social services will likely mean that self-funding through SNTs will play an ever-larger role in ensuring financial security and quality of life for individuals with disabilities.