OKLAHOMA CITY -- Unfolding a wallet, Jay Doudna slips a ticket book from one of its pockets. The tickets are worth a dollar a piece, but to him and his wife, Elaine Boykin, they represent an almost priceless freedom.
“We can go out to dinner,” he said. “We can go to the doctor.”
Doudna and Boykin are both visually impaired and often rely on public transportation to get to work and to lead otherwise independent lives. The tickets they tear from the pad are from Oklahoma City’s Share-A-Fare cab service program, which allows them to buy the coupon books at a 40-percent discount from the city.
Users can then pay for their cab rides using the coupons that are accepted by two area cab services, giving the couple the freedom to move about the city without organizing their lives around a bus schedule.
Programs such as Share-A-Fare are critical to the couple because transportation needs remain the No. 1 issue facing the disabled, Boykin said. A Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapist and Programs Manager with the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services, Boykin has been an advocate on the issues facing the disabled since graduating college in the mid-1970s. She is the current president of the Oklahoma Council of the Blind.
“I have been in this city since 1976, and we are still working on some of the same issues regarding transportation that we have been working on since I moved here,” she said. “The issues include city bus service and the fixed route system, and fighting to get that system to expand its services late into the evenings and to keep it at a decent price.”
A Pennsylvania transplant, Doudna now works as a studio technician at the Oklahoma Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and he too, is a former OCB president. Both he and Boykin have been advocates on issues affecting the disabled for decades – long before they were married seven years ago. Doudna said being an advocate on issues that impact one’s life is critical because needed services can disappear if lawmakers believe there is little interest.
“The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” Doudna said. “Whatever it is in your district, it is at risk if you don’t advocate. If you don’t advocate for what you use, you may not have it one day.”
The couple will be taking part in People with Disabilities Awareness Day scheduled for April 2 at the state Capitol. In fact, both are scheduled to win Disability Leadership Awards presented by the event host, Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services.
Awareness Day gives those with disabilities and their advocates a chance to talk with decision-makers who can preserve or expand services that make a difference in the lives of Oklahomans with disabilities. Last year, more than 700 people participated in the free event with most wearing green to show unity. Those attending are encouraged to meet with lawmakers and share their stories.
Boykin said many lawmakers at all levels of government often have not been exposed to the challenges facing the disabled who are struggling to lead independent lives and pursue careers. They also may not realize that one in six Oklahomans has a disability.
Economics have also played a role in making it harder for lawmakers to hear from disabled constituents, especially those living outside of Oklahoma City.
Doudna said in the 1960s and 1970s, disabled groups such as the OCB found it easier to rally for their causes because commercial and municipal bus routes were more plentiful; the cost of tickets were reasonable and a motel room could be had for about $20 a night.
Times have changed though, but the need for lawmakers to hear from their constituents has not.
“The Legislators generally don’t decide they are going to deny a blind person this and that.” he said. “It might be that they are not even aware of the need. Sometimes they might give us lip service and say ‘they are going to look into an issue.’ But that is the time when we have to be advocates and put the pressure on, making sure they follow through.”
Boykin and Doudna stressed that it is important to take advantages of any chance to meet with lawmakers especially if you are from a rural district because their lawmaker may not understand all of the challenges their disabled constituent faces.
Boykin said at the Awareness Day event on April 2 at the state Capitol she plans to talk to her lawmaker about a new sidewalk that was installed in her neighborhood, which gives her and her husband a safe path to Braums. There were no sidewalks in her neighborhood before, and she chose to live there because of its close proximity to a bus route.
“Once people are aware of how to advocate for themselves, it gives them power,” Boykin said. “You can do it politely. You don’t have to be gruff. You can be very gentle.”
Doudna agreed, and said Awareness Day is a critical event to securing the futures of people with disabilities.
“Awareness Day does work,” he said. “It is effective. We don’t always get what we want, but lawmakers see the people. That is critical.”
Sidebar: Gov. Mary Fallin to keynote Awareness Day
Oklahomans with disabilities and their advocates will converge on the state Capitol on April 2 to take part in People with Disabilities Awareness Day 2014.
This event marks the 20th year for Awareness Day, which is held to bring Oklahomans with disabilities together with their lawmakers. More than 800 people are registered to attend Awareness Day.
The event will last from noon to 4:30 p.m. and is expected to attract more than 70 exhibitors.
Gov. Mary Fallin will deliver the keynote address at 2:30 p.m. in the Capitol’s second floor, west hall.
Registration begins at noon on the first floor of the Capitol, and the Oklahoma School for the Blind Jazz band will kick off the event at 12:30 p.m. in the second floor, west hall. Dancers from the Oklahoma School for the Deaf will then perform at 1 p.m. in the same area.
The annual Awareness Day Awards presentation will begin at 3:30 p.m. in the second floor, west hall, and honors to be handed out include lifetime achievement, client of the year, disability leadership, state agency partner of the year and Legislator of the year.
Those wishing to attend can register by going to www.okdrs.gov, and they are encouraged to wear green on the day of the event to be more visible to fellow participants and lawmakers.
For more information call, (405) 951-3478 or visit http://www.okdrs.org/pwdad/2014 .