Advocates of the handicapped in Fairfax County, parents of the handicapped and the handicapped themselves sought last week to explain their problems and frustrations to a special state council advising Gov. John Dalton.
"I am asking the governor to live one day of his life as a handicapped person in a wheelchair," Andrew Niemic, of Annandale, told the council, which is conducting public hearings throughout the state. "Then he will understand the feelings of frustration and anger the handicapped have."
Niemic, who is physically handicapped, was one of seven speakers at the hearing last week in the Tyson's Corner Ramada Inn. He painted a sometimes touching, sometimes horrific picture of what the governor's day would be like in a wheelchair.
Niemic described Dalton being carried into church because it probably would not have ramps, dodging cars in a shopping center parking lot because he would have to park far from the stores to get a large enough space to accommodate a wheelchair, entering a restaurant through a delivery-sized entrance, probably down a garbage-filled alley, and being unable to see a movie because his chair in the aisle would create a fire hazard.
Niemic called for more curb cuts on county streets to provide wheelchair access to Metrobus stops. He said state law required that curb cuts be placed at all intersections built or replaced after Jan. 1, 1975. However, the law has not been carried out in Fairfax County, and county and state officials are now involved in a dispute over who is responsible for installing the cuts.
Niemic also chastised Fairfax schools for not having ramps for the handicapped at all schools. He said it is difficult for handicapped parents to attend meetings in some buildings.
Parents of two children in a special program for the physically handicapped at Fair Hill Elementary School also criticized the school system for not providing more therapists. They said Fair Hill's therapy pool was underused because the school lacks therapists, and added that handicapped children were not included in enough of the regular schools programs.
Fair Hill principal R. Lee Padgett said in an interview that the school was not understaffed according to school board guidelines, "but we probably could use more people to make maximum use of facilities." He said almost all the 50 handicapped pupils are "main-streamed" in regular school programs.
Another speaker, Gordon Landes, who serves on the new county Commission for the Handicapped, suggested that handicapped people be allowed to use express lanes on highways into the District of Columbia because they need extra time to park and enter work. He said state and local governments "should get on their toes" to take advantage of federal money recently made available for the handicapped.
Speakers also recounted cases of those who have lost services because of adminstrative regulations. Leroy Aarons said his 25-year-old son may no longer be able to attend a day care center for mentally retarded adults or receive transportation there because he recently became a resident of the Northern Virginia Tranining Center for the Mentally Retarded.
Aarons said a state rule on administration of federal funds may require withdrawal of money that pays for his son's attendance at the day care center and transportation to the center. He said counselors have recommended his son continue attending the center because it gives him a more normal existance. Aarons said 19 other Northern Virginians have experienced the same problem.
In another case, a man who had been rehabilitated physically to do computer work must give up a newly found job in nine months or lose federal Society Security benefits. However, he needs the Social Security payments to cover medical bills.
After meetings throughout the state this year, the advisory council will make recommendations to the governor.
When the council was established in the 1950s, its mandate was to deal with needs of the physically handicapped. During the past few years, because of new state and federal laws expanding services to the handicapped, that mandate has grown to include other handicaped groups, including the emotionally disturbed, the learning disabled and the mentally retarded.
The council is holding the present hearings "to find out just what the needs are and how widespread they are," said James T. Micklem, a council member who handles special education matters in the Virginia Department of Education.