Common Concerns Identified through the Concerns Report Method
Three group processes make up the Concerns Report Method: the working group where item suggestions for a survey are made by a group of experts and consumers, the Concerns Survey in which participants rank issue importance and satisfaction, and the well-publicized town meeting where people share experiences on issues, discuss problems, brainstorm alternatives, and plan strategies for change.
Purpose and Anticipated Benefits
Consumer-generated surveys combined with town meetings can help identify problems and ideas for enhancing independent living. Information can be used to set local agendas, justify maintenance or expansion of human services, and satisfy requirements for policy development. This method benefits local advocacy groups, state independent living councils, and rehabilitation planning.
Yolanda Suarez de Balcazar, Barbara Bradford, and Stephen Fawcett, all of the Research and Training Center on Independent Living, used the Concerns Report Method to with more than 17,000 people with disabilities in 12 states.
A working group of consumers with representative disabilities developed a Concerns Survey by reviewing menu of items covering topic areas, including employment, health, transportation, and housing, then selected items of local concern to be on the survey. They then selected 30 issues to appear on each of the 21 unique Concerns Surveys in 19 categories: assistive devices, commercial services (accessibility), commercial services (discounts), community support and responsiveness, disability rights and advocacy, education, employment (accommodations, disincentives, and training), employment discrimination, employment opportunities, handicapped parking, health care (affordability and availability), housing (affordability, availability, and accessibility), insurance for auto, life, and liability, insurance for health care, media portrayal and public information, public access, social services and benefits, transportation (availability and affordability), and utility bills.
About the survey items, respondents said:
- Rental of assistive devices, such as wheelchairs, is almost nonexistent. If rental is possible, consumers don’t know where to go or have needed information.
- Medicaid and Medicare do not cover all assistive devices.
- Change legislation regarding Medicaid and Medicare to cover purchase and repair of assistive devices.
- Identified as a problem is the availability of special rates for consumers with disabilities. People with disabilities do not get the same discounts and shopping privileges as senior citizens and are on a very low fixed income.
- Independent living centers can sell discount cards to consumers for use with participating merchants. This was done by Westside Center for Independent Living in Los Angeles. A group of people with disabilities can discuss a proposal with local merchants.
Community Support and Responsiveness
- Families and communities do not encourage members with disabilities to be independent.
- The community does not provide opportunities or assistance for people with disabilities to live independently.
- There are not enough support groups available for people with disabilities and their families.
- Sexuality counseling for people with disabilities is not available.
- Local governments are unresponsive to disability issues, especially if solutions cost money. In the issue of voting sites, for example, citizens with disabilities are discouraged from registering and voting by inaccessible registration sites, polling places, and lack of transportation.
- Encourage community groups to organize support groups and events to involve people with disabilities and their families.
- Encourage churches to work with support groups and include people with disabilities and their families in church activities.
- Use local media to feature stories about including people with disabilities in community activities.
- Ask city councils for help in organizing programs that will encourage independence for people with disabilities and their families.
- Independent living centers should provide training for their staff counselors in sexuality counseling or bring in professional counselors for a workshop and provide materials.
- Consumer groups should represent themselves at city council and county court meetings, become familiar with city budgets, and advocate for funds for access improvements and disability programs.
- Consumer groups should encourage and assist citizens with disabilities to register to vote.
- Use the American Civil Liberties Union to enforce existing access and registration laws.
Disability Rights and Advocacy
- People with disabilities are unaware of their legal rights.
- Most people with disabilities are unaware of what pending legislation at state and national levels they should support or oppose.
- People with disabilities need training in forming advocacy organizations.
- Professionals and independent living centers can foster local and state leadership within the disability community.
- People with disabilities need to inform themselves and attend advocacy meetings at all levels; to get on mailing lists for disability groups involved in legislation; and to obtain names, addresses, and numbers of elected officials.
- Consumers with disabilities should organize locally around identified and prioritized issues and form connections with state and national groups.
- Training in advocacy skills should be provided.
Most consumers responding to the consumer concerns survey were adults speaking for their own issues. Accordingly, issues relating to the education of children and youth emerged less frequently than they might if parent/advocates or consumers under 18 were more involved.
- Students with disabilities are isolated from social interaction with nondisabled students.
- Students without disabilities are not educated abut disabilities and reach adulthood unaware of people with disabilities and disability issues.
- Students with disabilities end up on waiting lists for transition services for several years following high school graduation, resulting in loss of skills, knowledge, and motivation during the waiting period.
- Increase mainstreaming of students with disabilities.
- Recruit teachers and school employees with disabilities.
- Independent living centers should work with schools.
- Transition activities should be incorporated into the school curriculum for students with disabilities and not wait until after high school.
Employment Accommodations, Disincentives, and Training
- Many businesses do not provide reasonable accommodations in the workplace.
- Work disincentives still exist within the Social Security system. In addition to loss of economic benefits is loss or reduction in medical benefits, housing subsidies, food stamps, attendant services, etc.
- Job hunters with disabilities lack basic job-seeking skills and are unaware of incentives to employers and laws prohibiting discrimination.
- People who are blind have lost their tax credit; other disability groups were never eligible.
- People with disabilities do not know where to go for job training or assistance in finding a job.
- Consumer groups need to form a coalition to lobby legislators at federal and state levels for tax credits.
- Vocational Rehabilitation could offer training in job-seeking skills.
- Consumer groups should develop guidelines on what constitutes reasonable accommodation in the workplace.
- Disseminate information about where to go for job training skills and job-related assistance.
- People with disabilities are discriminated against because of their disability.
- Qualified individuals with disabilities are not given the same opportunity as people without disabilities.
- Consumers need to teach job seekers with disabilities about proper attitudes and how to develop a businesslike demeanor when dealing with a potential employer. People with disabilities must sell an employer on their abilities and not rely on sympathy.
- If a specific employer is perceived as insensitive, invite a representative of that company to speak to a disability group about employment.
- Independent living centers and advocacy groups need to encourage and assist job applicants and employees to enforce laws and regulations prohibiting discrimination.
- Individuals with disabilities can contact the Job Accommodations Network or similar resources for help in locating jobs and training, marketing themselves to prospective employers, and obtaining reasonable accommodation.
- Job opportunities for people with disabilities are very limited.
- If there is a person without a disability and an individual with a disability applying for a job, employers prefer to hire the person without a disability.
- Consumers should educate employers in tax credits, reasonable accommodation, and advantages of hiring employees with disabilities.
- Disability groups must keep a coalition going at the national level to lobby for reduction of work disincentives
- Job placement people should know which employers routinely hire applicants with disabilities.
- Use publicity to inform the community about job needs, interests, and capacities of people with disabilities, similar to television spots from Job Service on specific jobs.
- Talk with industries to design adoption programs for people with disabilities similar to programs designed for immigrants.
- There are not enough handicapped parking places close to shopping and workplaces.
- Many spaces are not wide enough to unload wheelchairs or put down van lifts.
- Some spaces are not well-marked with an upright sign.
- Police do not ticket violators as often as they should.
- Courts are lax in enforcing handicapped parking laws.
- Review local statutes; seek state uniformity. Include private as well as public zones.
- Ask local mayors to publicize local ordinances.
- Consumer groups can conduct public awareness campaigns and letter- writing campaigns to local officials.
- Develop rapport with several police officers to assure better enforcement.
- Conduct study session with police, courts, and consumer groups to promote enforcement.
- Consumers can monitor violations and use data to advocate for compliance.
- Consumers can discuss parking problems with merchants where they shop.
- Consumer groups can distribute stickers to violators.
- Consumers can attend city council meetings and voice concerns to get adequate legislation.
- Consumers can advise businesses about adequate spaces and upright signs.
- Consumer groups can reinforce businesses that provide and enforce spaces.
- Publicize how to get parking need identification.
- Increase fines to over $25 to put teeth into the law.
- Form coalitions among groups needing access and parking.
- Provide consumer consultation in design of spaces.
- Put parking places on end of row for van lifts. In Anderson, Indiana, violators got a “candid camera” treatment. In a cooperative effort between local consumers and the town’s newspaper, a photo and brief statement by violators appeared on the front page of the local section.
- Some police departments have deputized local consumers with disabilities to ticket handicapped parking violators, paying their salaries from fines.
Health Care: Affordability and Availability
- Increasing numbers of doctors are refusing to take Medicaid or Medicare, because payment is late and inconsistent.
- There is no respite care for families caring for elderly family members with disabilities.
- People with disabilities often cannot afford regular, non-emergency medical care and medications.
- Transportation to medical appointments is difficult, especially regular long-distance transportation and transportation for’ rural citizens who go to large cities for dialysis or cancer treatment.
- Medical professionals are often insensitive when dealing with patients who have disabilities, treating them in a patronizing manner or preferring to deal with family members rather than communicate directly with the patient who has a disability as a responsible adult.
- Medical professionals are often unaware of special medical or physical assistance needs imposed by a disability. Thus, discomfort and temporary setbacks can result or even life-threatening situations.
- The general public is unaware that existing programs do not provide adequate medical care for people with disabilities.
- Consumers with disabilities are often unaware of medical aspects of their own disabilities or good self-care habits. This occurs because they accept the public’s definition of themselves as sick and needing to be cared for rather than healthy human beings responsible for their own well being.
- Another problem is attendant care. If no state attendant care program is available (example Wyoming has no Medicaid waiver or state-funded program), there is no paid attendant care for low-income consumers with disabilities. They must depend on family and friends or live in nursing homes.
- Use local media to describe health problems of people with disabilities and solicit suggestions to solve these problems.
- Organize local volunteers, church, and civic groups for medical transportation.
- Consumer groups should educate medical professionals about the special needs of patients with disabilities. The Association for Retarded Citizens does this for people with developmental disabilities.
- Invite medical professionals to speak to meetings of consumers to increase their own sensitivity and educate consumers at the same time.
- Provide inservice training for medical professionals in the dignified, courteous treatment of persons with disabilities. This should be conducted by consumer groups and consumer-run agencies.
- Provide education to consumers in how they can advocate for themselves with health care providers.
- Form coalitions with other consumer groups to work on common health care objectives.
- Form a Protection and Advocacy Organization to help patients with disabilities in cases of unfair treatment by health care providers.
- Educate medical professionals about treating different disabilities as part of medical and nursing school curricula.
- Use mutual support groups, counselors, and self-education to encourage good medical habits, nutrition, exercise, and prevention of illness.
- Locate sources of health care for persons with disabilities; make a directory of these resources.
- Arrange local medical fitness centers for people with disabilities. Provide outreach to commercial fitness centers and provide transportation to them for people with disabilities.
- Place people with disabilities as employees of health care providers (for instance, as social workers and patient advocates).
- Involve independent living centers in training and advocacy.
- Educate consumers about medical aspects of their own disabilities. Train them to advocate for themselves with medical professionals, and teach them to take personal responsibility for educating health care providers about their own appropriate treatment and needs.
- Write government and elected officials about health care issues.
- Attend city council meetings, and petition for city funds to help with medical expenses.
- Seek establishment of adult day care and home health services. Develop directory of doctors who accept Medicaid and Medicare payments for treatment of people with disabilities.
- Provide toll-free legal advice about legal matters relating to nonacceptance of Medicaid and Medicare or refusal of treatment to consumers with disabilities.
- Advocate for program changes to facilitate more timely and consistent payment of Medicaid and Medicare.
- Advocate for cooperative living arrangements with shared attendant care for those who need help.
- Consumer groups need to present need for attendant care and cost effectiveness data to state legislature.
- Support national groups lobbying for national attendant care programs.
- There is an extreme shortage of accessible, affordable housing for people with disabilities.
- Eligibility requirements and regulations keep some consumers who have disabilities, especially the nonelderly who live with family members or attendants, from living in public or subsidized housing.
- Builders do not comply with existing laws, where laws exist, that require building a certain percentage of accessible units.
- Builders are unaware of laws, access codes, and modifications necessary for accessibility.
- Managers and directors of public housing are unaware of, and often indifferent to, the needs of tenants with disabilities.
- Talk to owners if the manager is uncooperative.
- Low-income people and people with disabilities should be able to rely on social service agencies for housing assistance.
- Cities need more feedback from consumers with disabilities on housing needs of people with disabilities.
- Local consumer groups can bring complaints to local housing authorities.
- Consumers can be educated to be aware of tenant rights and raise money to finance suits when necessary.
- Residents with disabilities should become familiar with codes, where to file complaints where codes don’t exist, and how to introduce legislation.
- Groups can obtain 202 and other HUD loans for accessible housing and manage the housing units themselves.
- Examine eligibility requirements for subsidized housing. Use net, not gross income, as they did in Los Angeles.
- A consumer group in Los Angeles located two HUD projects in good neighborhoods to lessen the likelihood of crime and improve surroundings. The Telephone Pioneers donated money and labor to upgrade the structure.
- Establish subsidized housing administered by occupants. Provide income subsidy within housing cooperatives.
- Some communities in Minnesota provide vouchers to subsidize rent for housing anywhere in the community.
- Establish a referral network for accessible, affordable housing.
- Enforce existing laws, setting aside a certain number of units for people with disabilities.
- Consumers need to educate building professionals and make information available.
- Advocate for statewide legislation to encourage adaptability of units.
- Consumers need to lobby elected officials on lack of accessible housing.
- Community members with disabilities need to get on housing boards. Educate homeowners with disabilities about programs to help modify their homes for access and safety.
Insurance for Auto, Life, and Liability
- Insurance premiums are more expensive for people with disabilities.
- Insurance companies discriminate based on disability.
- Have a group of people with disabilities discuss possible solutions with insurance companies regarding adequate prices.
Insurance for Health Care
- Consumers with disabilities cannot buy health insurance because of their disability and/or pre-existing conditions.
- Consumers with disabilities cannot afford health insurance.
- Health insurance often does not cover supplies, equipment, regular medications, or therapies used by consumers with disabilities.
- Inability to purchase individual health insurance and exclusion from some group policies are serious disincentives to individuals with disabilities looking for work.
- Consumer groups can advocate for national health insurance.
- Consumers with disabilities can set up health insurance cooperatives as they did in Los Angeles.
- Shared risk insurance is an option so consumers with disabilities and pre-existing conditions can get group insurance.
- Educate consumers about supplemental insurance available through groups such as AARP, professional associations, credit card holders’ benefits, etc.
- Publicize the fact that laws in some states (such as Missouri and Kansas) prohibit insurance companies from discriminating against persons with disabilities.
- Independent living centers can train and assist consumers in filling out forms; challenge actions and policies of Medicaid, Medicare, and insurance companies; and assist in advocacy, complaints, and appeals processes.
- Get information from and make use of the state insurance commissioner’s office.
Media Portrayal and Public Information:
- The media do not provide enough information about what is available for citizens with disabilities.
- The media portray people with disabilities in a negative and unrealistic way, preferring the sensational or pitiful to the everyday and human side of disability.
- Consumer groups should bring accessibility and independent living issues to the attention of the press.
- Consumers should monitor coverage of disability issues.
- Consumers should educate the media to correct negative portrayals and terminology.
- Consumer groups could meet with service providers about developing a directory of services and programs for people with disabilities that could be disseminated through the media.
- Issues related to safe access to public places, including availability of curb cuts, accessible entrances, and snow removal, have been selected as major problems.
- Discuss among consumers with disabilities the key areas that need to be made accessible.
- Make up a priority list of access and safety issues for each year.
- Describe problems in newsletters, and solicit opinions from other community members with disabilities.
- Offer modification assistance to owners of inaccessible buildings and appropriate government and social agencies.
- Offer assistance to government agencies on ways to increase the safety of streets and sidewalks.
Social Services and Benefits
- Social service agencies fail to inform consumers with disabilities about all services available to them through their own agency, other agencies, or the community.
- Benefits or services from one agency can limit benefits or services from another agency.
- Most social service agencies are unaware of services available at other agencies.
- People with disabilities are referred from one agency to another, often encountering agencies unable to serve them or refusing services.
- Forms and policies of social service agencies are confusing.
- Organize a consumer group to review forms used by social service agencies.
- Form a consumer network for information and referral.
- Create more support groups for mutual assistance.
- Provide corrective feedback and information to social service agencies that fail to inform clients about benefits to consumers with disabilities.
- Provide social service agencies with training on benefits available to consumers with disabilities.
- Consumers should demand that Vocational Rehabilitation cases be reopened, if they have not been fully informed about all benefits available.
- Independent living centers should train consumers in what benefits are available and how to access them effectively.
- Independent living centers or consumer groups could organize regular cooperative meetings involving representatives of all social service agencies in the community, or if such an organization exists, become active and advocate for services to people with disabilities.
- If consumers are referred to an agency unable to serve them, they should contact the referring agency and tell them the referral was inappropriate and why.
- Educate consumers to use the state CAP agency, Legal Aid, and other available legal help when services are unjustly refused.
- Set up courses in self-reliance that teach consumers to use social services, such as the one used by the center for independent living in Anaheim, California.
- Citizens with disabilities are segregated from the rest of the community and forced to remain at home because of lack of transportation.
- In most areas, public transportation is not wheelchair-accessible, and paratransit is expensive or nonexistent. In rural areas, accessible transportation is available infrequently.
- Lack of transportation is the primary barrier to community participation, education, employment, recreation, adequate medical care, and independent living for people with disabilities.
- Weekend and evening transportation is a problem.
- Transportation between neighboring cities and from rural areas to cities is a problem.
- Ideally, a city should have accessible mainline transportation for those who can use it and paratransit for those who need it.
- Recreational events and facilities are sometimes inaccessible. Transportation to recreational events is unavailable.
- Consumer groups need to work with existing community recreational facilities to make them accessible and usable for people with disabilities.
- Contact organizers of recreational events for transportation for participants with disabilities.
- People with disabilities need to become involved in the planning of community recreational events and active in interest groups.
- Form a local task force on transportation, decide what local consumers need and want, and then fight for it.
- It is against federal law for paratransit to cost more than mainline transportation.
- Educate consumers about this law, how to make complaints, and how to ensure its enforcement.
- Develop share-a-fare, as they did in Kansas City, Missouri, where hundreds of wheelchair users a month use that system.
- Give testimony to state legislatures on transportation funding.
- Have lift buses operate at fixed rates and schedules as they do in Denver, a city with almost 100% accessible buses.
- Slow transit schedules to accommodate riders with disabilities. Drivers should call out stops ahead of time.
- Include drivers with disabilities in existing driver training programs.
- Develop car pools.
- Conduct public education on varied modes of transportation needed by citizens with disabilities.
- Submit formal complaints to transportation authorities concerning mainline wheelchair-accessible buses.
- Develop creative rural and small city alternatives. Examples include merging existing systems serving riders with disabilities (Morgantown, West Virginia), ownership of a lift van by a consumer group or cooperative (Cuba, Missouri), and use of idle church or school lift-equipped buses.
- Consumers with disabilities on a fixed income cannot afford inconsistent and high utility bills.
- Because of their medical needs, many consumers with disabilities cannot survive without water, gas for heat, and electricity to operate their equipment.
- Obtain help to establish programs for weatherization.
- Encourage landlords to weatherize units.
- Educate landlords and homeowners with disabilities about tax credits for weatherizing and solar installation.
- Encourage consumers to join annualized level payment plans.
- Consumer groups can keep list for referral of agencies that help pay utility bills.
- Call local consumer affairs office for help, if utilities are shut off; ask local phone company about discounts for consumers with disabilities
Learning the common concerns of people with disabilities and their insights into what actions would help assure equality of opportunity is a strong step toward assuring equal access all activities that society offers.
Fawcett, S. B., Suarez de Balcazar, Y., Whang-Ramos, P. L., Seekins, T., Bradford, B., & Mathews, R. M. (1988). The Concerns Report: Involving consumers in planning for rehabilitation and independent living services. Lawrence, KS: Research and Training Center on Independent Living, University of Kansas.