"Handicapped concerns are new to the District, and although we want to help, we just don't know a whole lot about what to do for the handicapped," said Ralph Spencer, acting administrator of the D.C. Building and Zoning Regulation Administration.
Within the District government, Spencer is not alone in this predictment. "There are no lines of communication established for effectively serving the handicapped," said Aaron Favors, chairman of the recently formed Mayor's Committee on the Handicapped.
"We don't know who is doing what. Many organizations are not aware of what other organizations are doing," said Favors, describing some of the tasks confronting the mayor's committee, established in December 1976.
The committee, composed of 28 persons representing a cross-section of professional, business, organizational and consumer interests within the handicapped community, has held monthly meetings since March. Favors says the committee's task is to "identify the gaps in services and then fill them."
Currently, the committee is gathering information on organizations, programs and services for the handicapped, he said. Eventually, when the committee has a better idea on what resources are available, it will advise D.C Mayor Walter Washington on ways to improve, integrate and develop services to the handicapped, said Favors.
Due to the lack of a coordinated information system, he said, "the District government has not taken full advantage of federal money available for handicapped programs."
The District has no overall plan for the handicapped, Favors said, and without knowledge of what resources are available, it is difficult to obtain federal funding for new programs. In other circumstances, money may be available, but there is no proceduree for informing concerned parties who may be eligible for funding, he said.
"The District needs a clearinghouse," said Yetta Galiber, a member of the mayor's committee and director of the Information Center for Handicapped Individuals, a D.C. non-profit organization.
Because of the lack of communication, she said, there is a duplication of services, causing an inefficient use of resources. We could be filling the gaps in services, said Galiber, but instead what happens is that resources get allocated to a few same areas.
"The mayor's committee can be the hub of the wheel," said Galiber. "Handicapped organizations can inform us of their concerns, and we can communicate those concerns directly to the mayor."
The Mayor's Committee on the Handicapped replaces the Advisory Council on Vocational Rehabilitation and the Mayor's Committee on the Employment of the Handicapped.
Among the topics discussed in the committee's May meeting last week were the availability of demonstration money for innovative housing projects for the handicapped, subsidies available to non-profit organizations needing buses for transporting the handicapped, and money for barrier-removal available under a HUD block grant program.