The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors got a graphic example this week of the problems of the handicapped. Nearly half of the 23 speakers who appeared at a public hearing on the issue were themselves disabled.
Struggling with speech difficulties, several speakers, most of whom were also deaf, told the board of the problems they face in a county where facilities are designed for people without handicaps. They described what life is like when you are unable to use the telephone, climb stairs, drive cars or even communicate ills to a doctor.
The handicapped speakers, over-coming shyness at speaking in public, gathered to comment on a citizen task force report commissioned by the board that makes recommendations on what Fairfax County needs to do to fully comply with federal laws for services to the handicapped. The disabled supported most of the recommendations.
The report recommends that Fairfax County take several measures to improve services. They are:
Create a commission for the handicapped that would include handicapped representatives and at least one person on the county staff.
Develop and improve services for the handicapped older than 21 who need help after leaving school.
Improve transportation services.
Expand recreational opportunities, especially for persons who cannot walk but have no other disabilities.
Expand employment opportunities with increased vocational training and job counseling and development.
Develop special housing.
Expand adult education.
Provide extended day care programs.
Begin a public information and enforcement program on parking for handicapped.
Provide year-round schooling for the severely and multiply handicapped.
Following the 2 1/2-hour meeting, which was translated into sign language for the deaf, the board endorsed the concept of creating a commission on the handicapped and asked county staff members to report on its staffing and responsibilities.
The board also decided to provide a sign language interpreter at any board meeting when notified that deaf persons will attend that meeting.
In addition, the board directed county workers to centralize current legislation on services for the handicapped and methods used to enforce those laws, and to print that information for widespread distribution in the county.
Handicapped persons and their supporters backed almost all the recommendations made by the task force and made other suggestions.
"The county supervisors should identify and change all laws that may be discriminatory to the handicapped," said Michael Ward, a physically handicapped young man confined to a wheelchair. Speaking with great effort to overcome speech difficulties, he said, "We all must work together to improve the quality of life for everyone in Fairfax County."