Job At Stake, She Yields In Commuting Dispute A Blind Woman Will Take Cabs To A Bus Stop. Her Bosses Won't Help, So This Is Her Cheapest Option.

Posted: September 15, 1995

FRAZER — Patricia Kelly says she'll be back at her desk at the Chester County Association for the Blind in Coatesville Monday, though transportation will cost her $300 a month.

Kelly, who is blind, has been stranded for two weeks at her home here without a ride to work. She said yesterday that she decided the cost was necessary to keep her $23,000-a-year job.

"You can't beat the system," she said.

The paratransit service now available in Chester County for blind people who are not elderly costs $1.50 a mile for door-to-door service - about $950 a month for Kelly. The option she is picking involves taking cabs to and from a bus stop at Exton Square Mall.

Kelly said she decided to pay the money after the association's board of directors gave her an ultimatum this week - get to work or lose your job.

"We don't treat blind people any differently than anyone else - they have to pull themselves up and make do," said William Keen Jr., a member of the board.

Kelly's predicament resulted in clashes among members of the board who held a special meeting Tuesday to decide her fate.

Kelly, 44, a teacher and social worker at the nonprofit agency, said her sister and a friend had been driving her to work. When they were unable to continue, her search for transportation began.

In an article published in The Inquirer Sunday, Kelly said that all her inquiries led to her to the same conclusion - public transportation for the visually impaired was not only costly, but was fraught with logistical problems, including bus stops not accessible by sidewalks.

The most expensive option is Chester County's door-to-door paratransit service, which provides free or reduced-cost rides only for pregnant teenagers, people over 65, and those who have medical assistance cards.

After the article was published, three strangers volunteered to drive Kelly to work. Kelly said yesterday that while she appreciated the offers, volunteers were not always reliable. "I need to find my own way," she said.

Kelly said that she had been offered paratransit service by the county at reduced rates for the next two weeks. After that, she will take cabs to and

from the bus stop. She is hoping her money holds out until SEPTA begins low- cost paratransit service in the suburbs in the spring.

One board member who wished to remain anonymous said another board member suggested in the meeting Tuesday that Kelly should "knock on the doors of her neighbors within a one-mile radius" until she found a ride to work.

"It was a venomous meeting," the board member said.

William Barnes, president of the board, said in an interview yesterday that the consensus was that it was Kelly's responsibility - not the agency's - to find transportation.

Barnes said it would have been "inappropriate" for the agency to help pay for Kelly to get to work unless the same assistance was offered to everyone.

Altogether, 24 blind people, including Kelly, work for the association, although many live in Coatesville, Barnes said. "The organization is funded totally through donations and fund-raisers. It receives no federal or state aid," he said.

Board member Carol Berzon said that some board members "felt it was unfair that there was no way Pat could get to work without paying exorbitant amounts and that the agency ought to help out."

The organization's executive director, Anita Cavuto, declined comment.

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