Navigating all the responsibilities of life can be difficult enough for anyone, but for people with disabilities, the challenges can be exacerbated by a lack of accessibility. In the state of Oklahoma, however, there is somewhere they can turn: the Oklahoma State Office of Disability Concerns.
“The Office of Disability Concerns acts as a conduit for Oklahoma citizens with disabilities to understand what resources are available, as well as what they should expect in terms of accessibility when working with both the public and private sectors,” says Brenda Hoefar, interim director.
For example, if a person with disabilities is struggling to get nutritious groceries, the ODC will help connect them with food banks and other resources for services that they need. Hoefar describes how the dedicated disability specialists will sometimes even go so far as to pick up and deliver food to a client.
“That’s how good we are,” she says.
Another aspect to the work of the ODC is to serve as a resource for companies in their efforts to comply with federal law in the form of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Hoefar and the ODC staff present trainings on ADA and employment of people with disabilities topics, as well as conduct accessibility audits for buildings.
“[We will] go into their building and see what needs to change and what’s correct about their accessibility,” she says.
The ODC is a small office consisting of Hoefar and a handful of disability specialists. They also utilize the help and support of a Governor’s Advisory Council on People with Disabilities, and a Council on Employment of People with Disabilities, which give ideas and feedback as to ways to help this population. And there are several persons with disabilities who sit on each of these councils, so the input is invaluable, says Hoefar.
One of the issues that the ODC handles regularly may be unexpected. They are often asked to clarify the rules and regulations concerning service animals – both for those utilizing a service animal and establishments serving the public.
“There is a huge misunderstanding about service animals in Oklahoma and where they can be permitted and not permitted,” says Hoefar. “And we have to do a lot of talking to people about service animals.”
Another issue that comes to light frequently is that of accessibility of transportation. The ODC is often called upon by their clients to help solve problems in getting where they need to go.
“A lot of these people are in assisted living or some type of apartment complex, and they have no transportation, [except] their mobility device,” says Hoefar. This can present a challenge in doing things as simple as getting to the store. But the ODC is there to help.
“Every case is a win,” says Hoefar. “Somebody always gets help no matter what, if they call us, there’s never a no answer. Everybody can expect some kind of assistance. Even if it’s something we can’t handle, we guide them to someone who can.”
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