Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Clift Notes: The State Rehabilitation Council

A funny thing happened on my way to convention…

By Christina Clift
Christina Clift
I checked my e-mail and discovered that I’d been appointed by Governor Haslem to serve on the State Rehabilitation Council of Tennessee.   

Why was this funny? First of all I’d forgotten about submitting the application.  Second, I thought that I hadn’t been selected since I submitted my application at the end of August 2017 and it was April 3, 2018 when I received notification that I had been approved.  

 Honestly, no one could have been more surprised than me when I read the message. Finally, I was 95 percent sure that I would be elected to serve as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee that weekend and I knew that it would increase my responsibilities.  I did get elected and now my calendar is definitely full.  Never a moment of boredom.   

So you might be asking yourself what is the State Rehabilitation Council of Tennessee and why does it matter to me?  

The mission of the State Rehabilitation Council (SRC) of Tennessee is to advise, evaluate and partner with the public rehabilitation program in support of improving access to employment and promoting a diverse workforce statewide.  In other words, the SRC acts as the voice of the consumer and other stakeholders in the VR program. 

Like Centers for Independent Living, the SRC must have at least 51 percent participation from former or existing Vocational Rehabilitation clients which are people with disabilities.  Working for MCIL I know about the struggles individuals have gone through to receive training, to receive needed equipment, and to get and maintain employment.  I also learned that first-hand as a client of Vocational Rehabilitation myself.  

I knew that I wouldn’t have any problem being on the side of the consumer.  However, I knew that I had to keep an open-mind because issues aren’t always black and white and you have to be able to see both sides.

The meeting kicked off fairly smoothly with representatives from Vocational Rehabilitation giving an update on the four metrics currently being used to assist The Department of Rehabilitation Services.  They are referred to as customer focused goals. And they include: Vocational training services, providing job readiness, post-secondary education, and successful closures.  

These four areas enable the SRC and Vocational Rehabilitation the ability to track performance.  For example, the number of successful case closures for 2017-2018 is 2000 and currently they have closed 1776.  The metrics can then be examined to see the barriers to Vocational Rehabilitation clients or staff being able to close cases. They also reported on the impact that programs such as pre-employment transition services, Employment and Community First, and The Tennessee Promise are having on new applications.

Other areas of discussion were fairly straight forward.  They included member recruitment, creating outreach materials such as brochures, websites, and social media.  We also discussed ways to increase responses to customer satisfaction surveys for Vocational Rehabilitation.  Suggestions included: using events like the Mega Conference, NFB of Tennessee conventions, and more to set up tables.  Use of technology like survey monkey, texting links, and having organizations like CIL’s to assist as well. 

Overall, I think serving on the SRC will be a positive experience.  It will enable me to speak up on policies that act as barriers to service.  I will enable me to network with other agencies who have members on the SRC including STEP, the Department of Education, DRT, representatives from the business community, and other advocates speaking on behalf of disability populations.  These meetings are open to the public and I would strongly encourage anyone to attend.  After all, “nothing about us, without us.”  

 The next meeting is scheduled for August 9, 2018 in Nashville at the Airport Hilton located at 2200 Elm Hill Pike.

Monday, April 30, 2018


Segregated Grand Re-Opening

By Tim Wheat
MATA got the Main Street Trolley running today. MCIL had asked that they test the lifts at each stop and MATA administration assured us that each stop would accessible today. Alvin Pearson, MATA Director of Operations, told me directly today that all the stops are accessible.

But they were not.

The Trolley’s starting point at the Trolley Barn is not accessible. Mr. Pearson said MATA was just boarding at the barn so that people did not have to walk to the Hudson Station stop. That is true, the Barn is not a typical stop, and does not have an accessible lift like the other Main Street stops. Having the opening at the barn, however, made it impossible for people with disabilities to be on the grand opening Trolley ride.

All patrons were welcomed on the Trolley, except people who use wheelchairs. The maiden voyage of the Trolley left the barn on its segregated Grand Re-Opening. The mayor, some City Council members and Representative Steve Cohen were packed on the Trolley with other dignitaries and interested citizens. 

Gary Rosenfeld, the CEO of MATA started the event and said it was important for a transit company to be on-time. As I watched the Trolley make its way down Main Street, I wondered if the Trolley was thirty years behind, or fifty years too late.

Friday, April 27, 2018

MATA blames riders for poor service

 Poor management and inferior administration the real problem
Allison Donald

By Allison Donald
During April’s MATA board meeting, CEO of MATA Gary Rosenfeld discussed his plans to improve the paratransit service.   MATAplus has over 7,183 customers on that are eligible to receive paratransit service. In February MATAplus ran 18,892 trips and just over 20 percent (4,273) were cancelled.  

Mr. Rosenfeld omitted the reasons for the cancellations and placed the delivery of subpar service at the feet of the riders due to cancellations.  He only explained how cancellation effects the delivery of service, he did not take responsibility for dispatchers failing to communicate to the drivers.  Cancellations are part of every system, it is MATA that fails to properly manage their resources.

MATA has both a cancellation policy and a “no-show” policy for riders. It is especially inept of the MATA administration to attempt to blame the poor management of the system on the patrons.
Gary Rosenfeld also highlighted staffing problems as to why MATAplus has subpar service.  He stated that the shortage of bus operators has played a role in MATAplus not being able to meet the standard of service MATA would like to provide. Again, Mr. Rosenfeld seems to blame operators for what is a management responsibility. MATA administration should realize that it is their job to train and keep personnel to effectively operate the system.

MATAplus is now fully staffed in reservations department with six people taking live bookings one in training and one person assigned to the voicemail. According to Mr. Rosenfeld the goal of the reservations department is to answer each voicemail within the hour that the person places the call. However, even with the reservation department being fully staffed has not eliminated the problems rider’s have with the phone service and making reservations. Again, the cause seems to point back to poor administration.

During Rosenfeld’s presentation to the board he did point out some possible changes that MCIL had requested to improve MATAplus service.  For example, MATA is reviewing software so paratransit riders can have the ability to book trips online and starting May 21st MATAplus certified riders will be able to use the fixed routed for free.

“I would like to see some feedback from MATA at the next city council meeting” said Jamita Swearengen the Memphis City councilperson liaison. The next City Council meeting is scheduled for May 8th.  

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

MATA not making Called Stops

Memphis Transportation Advisory Committee

The MATA trolley stop at Poplar
The monthly MTAC meeting was dominated by discussion of the called-stops currently on the MATA fixed-route system. Called-stops are the announcements that the bus operator or automated system audibly make to inform passengers where the bus is.

Called stops are an important accommodation for bus riders who are blind or visually impaired. They are also important for people with cognitive disabilities who may learn to use the fixed-route rather than being stuck in the paratransit system. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that called-stops should include transfer points, major intersections, landmarks as well as stops requested by passengers.

MATA administration recognizes that the current announcement system is not compliant with the ADA. Without MTAC guidance, the MATA administration and the MATA ADA Compliance official would have never recognized the civil-rights limitation of the system and the exposure to a federal lawsuit.

Notes from the March 22, 2018 bus ride listed on the MCIL Journal show just one example of the problems in the MATA called stops. First the Route 34 did not make any audible announcements. The Route 50 had clear announcements, but it did not list crossing routes, major landmarks (the public library) and important intersections (East Parkway).

MATA administration admitted that all bus announcements lacked the basic compliance to the federal guidelines. Typically, the MATA announcements will be at the time-points listed on the schedule and there are alternating messages to patrons about MATA policy or services.

MTAC is looking at two main goals of bus stop announcements and a re-determination fair for MATAplus. MATA administration last night at the City Council meeting said they were “rolling out” free fares for certified Paratransit riders who ride the fixed-route. They also announced at the MTAC meeting that MATA was looking into purchasing 17 accessible bus shelters with advanced features.

Of course many Memphians are looking forward the MATA rolling out the Trolleys on April 30 at 11:AM.