An Advocacy Update: The New Wisconsin Non-Driver Interagency Advisory Council

 

The speakers in this video, titled “WisDOT Working to Improve Transportation for Wisconsin’s Non-Drivers” are: Jennifer Jako, ADRC of Baron, Rusk and Washburn Counties; Denise Jess, WCBVI; and Carrie Diamond, Easterseals National Aging and Disabilities Transportation Center.

The Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired advocated for an advisory council to bridge the gap between agencies providing services and people who rely on other modes of transportation. This group is known as the Wisconsin Non-Driver Interagency Advisory Council. The advisory council will use influence, information and problem-solving to help agencies to implement changes.

Did You Know? An advisory council is tasked with giving advice to groups and organizations. It is typically made up of people who bring a unique perspective, or represent a minority viewpoint on an issue. Advisory councils brainstorm solutions and provide input to people who run specific programs. An advisory council is a space for sharing ideas. Governance, oversight and accountability are tasks reserved for other groups.

The Survival Coalition of Wisconsin Disability Groups and the Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources were also advocates for a non-driver advisory group. In February, the Wisconsin Department Of Transportation (WisDOT) announced the formation of the advisory council, with commitment from other state agencies. The Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired was invited as a member. In April, WisDOT Secretary Craig Thompson appointed Denise Jess, Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired CEO/Executive Director, as a co-chair of the advisory council. She serves alongside Aileen Schweitzer, WisDOT Administrator, and Tami Jackson, Survival Coalition transportation lead.

What Does the Wisconsin Non-Driver Interagency Advisory Council Do?

The purpose of the Wisconsin Non-Driver Interagency Advisory Council is to share the needs of those who cannot or choose not to drive with agencies like Department of Transportation, Veterans Affairs, DHS, DPI and the Office of the Insurance Commissioner.

Membership on this advisory council is diverse. It is comprised of state agencies, legislators, nonprofits and advocacy groups, along with representatives of county and municipal government. More than 60 people belong to the advisory council so far.

The goal of this group is to keep the non-driver at the center. Often, transportation efforts focus on the mode of transportation or the specifics of the program. It can be forgotten that people are at the heart of these transportation systems and their lives are impacted by them every day.

Why It Matters:

Non-drivers in Wisconsin have various needs because they are a diverse population. People with disabilities, pedestrians, older adults, people without access to driver’s education and people who do not or choose not to own a car make up just a few of the groups who use other modes of transportation. Non-drivers are located in rural, urban and suburban areas. They each face differing issues when it comes to getting where they want to go.

One example is commuting via specialized transportation. You might have a medical appointment shortly after work, and your specialized transit ride might drive by the clinic. However, because there is a pool of money dedicated to specialized transportation for employment and another pool dedicated to medical rides for those on Medicaid, you need to have two different rides. You need to first take your work ride to your home, then wait for your medical ride to pick you up for the appointment. This example illustrates inefficient use of time, money and resources.

Programs like specialized transportation are run by agencies with budget constraints, municipal boundaries and varying roles and responsibilities. All of these factors combine to create a complex transportation landscape.

The advisory council brings people together to discuss issues, look for gaps in service, assess previously unvoiced needs and brainstorm solutions beneficial for all non-drivers. Members can then bring those ideas back to their respective agencies for consideration.

Update:

The advisory council met as a large group for the first time on June 17 and 18. The meeting was public and held virtually, so anyone could stream it on YouTube.

A laptop sits on a table with a presentation up.

A slide showing 353,000 car deficient households in Wisconsin.

Day one focused on increasing understanding of the experiences, needs and realities of non-driving Wisconsinites. A panel delved into these issues, incorporating information about the experiences of non-drivers living across the state. This was important, since someone living in a larger metropolitan area, like Milwaukee, has a very different experience of transportation than of someone living in a rural area, such as Barron, Wisconsin.

The second day dove into state agency programs, how funding is allocated for these programs and who they serve. This content was delivered information to anyone unfamiliar with the complexity of these programs. The meeting also provided a frame of reference to consider gaps in service.

Members worked in small groups both days to continue to build strong understanding of the issues and engage in solution brainstorming on both narrow and broad scales. The co-chairs met at the end of June to determine next steps for the advisory council.

Where to Learn More:

WisDOT will post all meeting notes and recommendations from the member work groups, along with the materials shared by each presenter. Find group updates at this website.

What You Can Do:

You can make a difference in your community. Become familiar with how transportation works where you live. Knowing about the issues non-drivers face in your area and about the programs currently serving them will encourage advocacy at the local level. Many counties are the decision-makers on how they use their transportation dollars. For example, they allocate funding for specialized transportation and utilize it based on community input. At the state level, it’s important to advocate for increased funding or adjusted funding priorities. That’s where your experiences come in.

The Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired is interested in hearing your non-driver transportation stories. Your experiences and perspectives might be shared with the statewide advisory council to demonstrate need and provide examples of challenges non-drivers face. Email Katherine at KCorbett@WCBlind.org to share. Continue to watch Council publications for more updates on this group’s progress and activities. We appreciate all of the impactful stories we’ve received to date, and were excited to share them during the first advisory council meeting.

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