Episode 14: Getting Where We Need To Be: Transportation in Kentucky

3 months ago

Decades ago, Kentucky was the epicenter of the movement to make public transportation accessible to people with disabilities. In this episode, Maria Kemplin joins Kimberly to talk about how far we’ve come, where we are now, and the hope for making transportation accessible to everyone in the future.

To find out more about accessible transportation in Kentucky, visit Transportation.hdiuky.org

To find out more about legendary Kentucky activist Arthur Campbell, visit https://ket.org/program/if-i-cant-do-it-it-aint-worth-doing/

Visit the Commonwealth Council on Developmental Disabilities at ‎ccdd.ky.gov

Thanks to Chris Ankin for use of his song, “Change.”

The book "A Celebration of Family: Stories of Parents with Disabilities." is available from Amazon here.

Send comments and questions to [email protected]

Demand and Disrupt is sponsored by the Advocado Press and the Center For Accessible Living.

Thanks to Steve Moore for the transcription which you can find in the show notes below when they become available.


Kimberly Parsley 00:02 Welcome to Demand and Disrupt, the disability podcast. Here we will learn to advocate for ourselves and each other. This podcast is supported with funds from the Advocado Press, based in Louisville, Ky. Today's guest is Maria Kemplin. Maria is a person with a disability, an advocate and the very proud parent of a son who is a strong advocate himself. Maria works at the University of Ky's Human Development Institute on the Transportation Initiative, a project made possible by a grant from the Commonwealth Council on Developmental Disabilities. The Transportation Initiative provides resources and education on accessible transportation options for Kentuckians with disabilities. Maria also serves on Ky's Special Education Advisory Panel and participates in several state organizations. She says that Demand and Disrupt is one of her favorite podcasts. Ooh! Thanks, Maria! She says that long, fired up conversations with her son and fellow advocates sustains her drive to make the world include us all. So, we are happy to have Maria Kemplin joining us today. Hello, Maria! How are you?

Maria Kemplin 01:17 Hi, I'm great. How are you, Kimberly?

Kimberly Parsley 01:20 I'm doing well. How are things up there in Lexington?

Maria Kemplin 01:23 They're nice. We're just starting to have the first of spring. So that's very welcome.

Kimberly Parsley 01:30 Tell me about your job, what you're doing up there in Lexington.

Maria Kemplin 01:34 I'm working on a project at UK's Human Development Institute and it's called the Transportation Initiative. The Transportation Initiative is a project supported by the Commonwealth Council on Developmental Disabilities and the purpose of the project is to promote transportation solutions for people with disabilities across Ky. So, we provide educational information, we help with technical assistance and we also help people advocate for accessible transportation, because that's such an important thing for Kentuckians that have a disability.

Kimberly Parsley 02:18 Yeah, it is. So, tell me a little about that. For me, obviously, I'm blind, I don't drive, I never have driven. I know how transportation barriers impact me. So, tell me about the impact on people with other disabilities.

Maria Kemplin 02:33 So, transportation is something that we all rely on across all ages and stages of life, from the time we are a baby until even when we're elderly. Transportation is essential. It gets us to work, it gets us to school, it's how we get our groceries, our prescriptions. It's how we see family members or go to church. You won't find anybody that doesn't have a transportation need and we all have our transportation needs met in different ways. Some people drive. Some people have a family member that drives that they ride with and some people use public transportation. But you'll find that transportation really varies depending on where you live, what your circumstances are. Some people have access to great transportation options and then other people in rural areas may lack transportation options and they may really struggle to even get to a doctor's appointment or to have a job, because they don't have transportation to get to their job. And, so the Transportation Initiative tries to look at those issues and find what solutions are currently available and also help people articulate that need for when there is not a transportation solution available and how we can try to change that.

Kimberly Parsley 04:11 You said part of the funding comes from the from the?

Maria Kemplin 04:15 The Commonwealth Council on Developmental Disabilities. They've been a great supporter of this project. And, of course, they support a lot of great projects related to developmental disabilities. But transportation is one that comes up so frequently in needs assessments and in community conversations, where people are talking about the barriers that they have to employment or to continuing your education or to volunteering in your community or attending community meetings or voting. We know transportation is an issue that cuts across all of those areas. So, the support of the Council has really been phenomenal!

Kimberly Parsley 05:04 How is someone with developmental disabilities, how are they impacted by barriers to transportation?

Maria Kemplin 05:12 So, what you'll find is some folks, because of their disability… For example, we can talk about my son who’s 18. He has an epilepsy diagnosis. So, because of that, he won't be getting a driver's license because of having epilepsy. So, for him, he grew up knowing that he would have to have a transportation solution. And what's that going to look like? How am I going to prepare for that? Other people may have a disabling accident or they may just simply get older and are no longer driving like they used to, so their transportation need changes and you find yourself trying to figure out, ‘How do I get to work now? How do I go get my groceries now?’ So, those are problems that a lot of Kentuckians face and it can be really a tremendous challenge if you're trying to figure out how to pick up your prescriptions or how to get to your medical appointments and you don't have that ability to drive any longer. There's a lot of different reasons why someone may not have transportation. It could be a developmental disability, it could be… Some people don't have access to a vehicle that's accessible, because of the cost, because of the modifications needed.

Kimberly Parsley 06:43 Yes, those are incredibly expensive. Incredibly expensive.

Maria Kemplin 06:48 Sometimes folks have an accessible vehicle and then, like all of us, they have car trouble. Car trouble is something that touches most households at some point, but your neighbor can't give you a ride if you use a wheelchair, because you may not be able to just get a ride with someone easily. So, there’s a lot of barriers when you require an accessible vehicle.

Kimberly Parsley 07:17 And there's a history of activism, isn't there, in Ky? Maybe everywhere, but in particular, in Ky there's a history of activism in this area.

Maria Kemplin 07:28 Ky has a tremendous history with disability advocacy and transportation, especially around the Louisville area. And that's one thing that I loved about the Advocado Press and that history of bringing attention to that movement. A group of advocates in Louisville grew from a small grassroots effort to a large group to advocate for accessible public transit and they made a difference that spread across the nation. Louisville became one of the first cities to have accessible buses and it was because of the efforts of advocates, people that were in ADAPT (Americans Disabled for Accessible Public Transit). Folks like Arthur Campbell, who's one of my absolute heroes.

Kimberly Parsley Mine, too.

Maria Kemplin It was their advocacy efforts that made a significant change. And now we have buses that are accessible, but the issue is do you live on a bus route? Do you live in a community that has bus routes that go where you need to go? Or do you live out in a rural area where there may not be a bus service at all? So, we’ve made progress, but there's still a lot of progress left to go.

Kimberly Parsley 08:52 Yeah, there is. I live in Bowling green and, well, it's even better in Bowling Green than out in the rural areas, around. So, yeah, Ky's got a great history. We need to keep that up, though. So, tell me what can people do to improve transportation options both for themselves, but also for the community as a whole?

Maria Kemplin 09:14 Advocacy is something that is very important and we all have a role in that, whether we are a person with a disability, whether we work in education or with a community agency. I was just seeing the Surgeon General's report the other day about loneliness and I don't know if you had a chance to see that.

Kimberly Parsley 09:37 I did. It was fascinating! It really was.

Maria Kemplin 09:40 One of the things that the US Surgeon General specifically calls out is infrastructure and the impact of infrastructure on loneliness and how, if folks don't have the ability to connect and get out into community and participate and belong, and that the impact of that loneliness on your health and on your mental health. We see that with elderly populations when they're not able to get out and participate and how that influences their health. So, advocacy is very important. Education is so important: sharing information so that people can see the results. The impact on employment: if a large segment of our population can't access employment, because of a lack of transportation. Well, we're in an employment shortage right now, so one solution to the employment crisis and the lack of talent that people are finding is how can we get people to job sites? And of course, transportation is part of that. If you have an infrastructure to get people to work, then it certainly opens up more possibilities.

Kimberly Parsley 11:02 Right. So, advocacy, tell me, what are the nuts and bolts? What can someone who hears this interview and they're like, ‘Okay, yes, this is an issue that affects me and I want to take action.’ So, tell me, what can they do?

Maria Kemplin 11:18 So, one thing that I found is people with disabilities are the true experts when it comes to transportation issues. And I think one of the most powerful things you can do is get people with disabilities that are impacted by transportation issues together, whether that's virtually online on Zoom, in a meeting room at the public library, however you do that. But I think you'll find that there becomes strength and solidarity among those voices. And people can talk about the challenges they experience and also what they see as the solutions. People with disabilities have figured out a lot of the flaws in the system and can point us to how things can be improved. I saw that in the 80s and 90s in Louisville with people with disabilities showing us that buses were not accessible and how we could improve upon that and how that led to the ADA.

So, I think getting people together, community members being willing to listen and support folks, but I think that's a first step. And I think that that happens best in communities, community level, because what you experience in Bowling Green, Kim, might be different than somebody in Somerset experiences. Someone in Lexington that lives on a bus route may have totally different needs or issues. So, I think one effective way is to focus on your community. We saw that in Montgomery County where people worked together to bring an awareness about transportation issues to their community. And the community action agency in Montgomery County (that's Gateway Community Action Agency) created a Montgomery County Transit System. And for $1 per ride, they give people countywide transportation door to door and vehicles are accessible.

Kimberly Parsley Wow!

Maria Kemplin So, it’s phenomenal what Gateway Community Action Agency has accomplished! And you know, folks bring that to the community's attention. So that might be something if a city in western Ky doesn't have any system, people may get together and bring it to their community action agency or talk to their local government and talk about. There are some matching grants available state and federal to start transit systems and how you could take advantage of those.

Kimberly Parsley 14:11 Well, that is definitely encouraging. Thank you for sharing that. Tell me what does the future look like? We talked about the history. What's the future look like for transportation in Ky?

Maria Kemplin 14:21 One thing that I hear from millennials who are taking surveys is millennials really believe in public transit and public transit infrastructure, which is really interesting, because we had this… Not everybody used to own a car, not even every household used to own a car. In fact, in the 70s most people carpooled to work, because it wasn't one car per one house per person. And, so, over the 80s and 90s, you saw this movement to where people were each independently owning their own car, but the costs of automobile ownership are really high. In fact, out of every dollar that a household spends, 16 cents of that budget is on a vehicle.

Kimberly Parsley Wow!

Maria Kemplin So, it's a significant portion of people's household budget. It can cost between $12- and $16,000 a year just to maintain and operate a vehicle, each vehicle, that a household has. So, Millennials see that automobile expense and they're looking at their budget and they're looking at student loans and the rising cost of housing and all of the pressures on our income and they're thinking about public transit as an option to relieve their budget. And a household that uses public transit can save nearly $10,000 a year by using options. So, I think that's something that we'll see more of a return toward and less of the one person, one car kind of system.

Kimberly Parsley 16:08 That would be great both for households and for the environment as a whole, wouldn’t it.

Maria Kemplin 16:14 it would! Of course, there'd be great impacts on the environment, on emissions, on our use of fuel sources, on budgets. And public transit systems also are a source of employment. There is, I forget the number, but there is a pretty significant number of jobs that are created by transportation systems. Whether that's subway systems, train systems, freight train systems, buses, they're large employers and that's an important thing to think about, too. When you're investing in public transit in your community, your creating jobs in the community.

Kimberly Parsley 16:56 So, tell me if someone wants to learn more, is there a website that they can go to?

Maria Kemplin 17:02 Well, we do have a website that shows some of Ky's public transit options and other transportation resources. That web address is transportation.HDIUky.org.

Kimberly Parsley 17:20 Okay, and I'll put that in our show notes for everyone.

Maria Kemplin 17:23 That's an accessible website. So up on the right-hand toolbar, you'll see a little person icon. If you click on that, there are magnifiers and there's different screen tools that folks can use for accessibility. And there's some videos, audio files and there are also some handouts people can print about different transportation resources.

Kimberly Parsley 17:48 I have been on there. It is a very, very helpful website! So, thank you, if you were part of getting that up and running. Thank you very much, Maria. So, anything else people need to know about transportation and how we can improve it here in Ky?

Maria Kemplin 18:05 Well, one thing I want to touch on is the intersectionality of public transportation, in that the people that are most disproportionately affected by transportation issues are young adults, aged 25 to 29, particularly single parents of small children, low income households, the elderly, black employees, and individuals with disabilities. So those are the population segments that are most impacted by transportation issues. And, so, you'll see each of those groups has an effect when it comes to employment, they have enough negative effect when it comes to health care. People have difficulty getting to their health care appointments. In fact, 54% of people have such a significant issue with transportation that they report they have a barrier to their health care. Yeah, it's pretty significant. So, when you look at transportation issues, we have to think about how transportation systems are a part of that equation. Where different populations have a barrier, they have something that's holding back their ability to live their best life and participate and one of the variables in that equation is transportation. It’s going to affect your ability to access a lot of important things in life.

Kimberly Parsley 19:42 It absolutely is. I can 100% attest to that! So, Maria Kemplin, thank you very much for joining us! I appreciate it. And again, I will put the link to that website in the show notes. And I do encourage everyone to try to get together and organize and see what we can do to improve what is a very important situation. Thank you so much, Maria.

Maria Kemplin 20:06 Thanks for inviting me, Kim.

Kimberly Parsley 20:10 If you like the podcast, remember to follow or subscribe so you never miss an episode. If you really like the podcast, we'd love it if you could leave us a rating or review on Apple podcasts or Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. That helps more people to find us. If you really, really liked the podcast, then please tell someone about it, either in person or send them an email or just share the link on social media. Thank you all! Every bit helps and it makes a huge difference for us. If you'd like a transcript, please send us an email to de[email protected] and put transcript in the subject line.

Thanks to Steve Moore for helping us out with transcripts. Thanks to Chris AnkIn for our theme music. Demand and Disrupt is a publication of the Advocado Press with generous support from the Center for Accessible Living, located in Louisville, Ky. And you can find links to buy the book, “A Celebration of Family: Stories of Parents with Disabilities,” in our show notes. Thanks everyone!

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Kimberly Parsley