Extended Employment Sheltered Workshops began in Missouri in the early 1960’s. A national movement called Employment First is underway to help people integrate from workshops into community employment. This framework for change is based on the premise that all citizens, including people with disabilities, should have opportunities for full participation in competitive integrated employment and community life.
OATS Transit is seeing rapid growth in need for community employment transportation, extended operating hours and more buses to accommodate the influx of riders. We are embracing the change to ensure thousands of Missourians with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) get to work - whether they choose a workshop, or want to explore competitive employment.
“As an organization, we have always maintained a dedication to practices that ensure the integrity of our company and reflect on our mission statement - “Enhancing quality of life by providing safe, caring & reliable transportation services.” said Dorothy Yeager, OATS Executive Director. “We want to ensure everyone has access to their community and glad we are able to partner with many agencies to make sure this happens.” OATS Transit has been providing transportation to work since the early 1980’s and it has been our most requested service for many years. In 2001, 25% of the trips we provided were for work transportation. Today, more than 45% of the trips we provide are for work transportation. Our vehicles are now driving five million more miles as people shift from workshops to community employment.
To make the transition from workshop to community employment possible, OATS Transit is working with several Senate Bill 40 agencies in the state. According to Camden County SB40 Executive Director, Ed Thomas, approximately 70% of their agency’s working-age clients do not drive or have personal transportation. “When our agency surveyed sheltered workshop employees, we discovered approximately 60% of the employees were interested in seeking competitive integrated employment,” Thomas said.
In 2016, OATS Transit began working with Thomas’ agency to enhance the public transit system.
“As a result of this collaboration, approximately 20% of our agency's working-age clients now have jobs in the community, and this number will continue to grow,” Thomas said. “Without OATS Transit, this could not have been possible."
In 2017, public transit expanded to include deviated routes running through Camdenton, Osage Beach, Lake Ozark, Eldon, Laurie, Versailles, Sunrise Beach and other communities in 3 counties. These new systems run Monday through Friday, with one route having extended service to include evenings and weekends.
Senate Bill 40 agencies are overseen by a county-appointed Board of Directors have been in Missouri since the early 1970’s. There are currently 87 Missouri counties have SB40 tax levies. SB40 provides funding support by enabling local counties to create tax levies for housing, work, day programs and other needs for the (I/DD) community.
The Christian County Links Board identified that transportation was the main barrier to competitive employment for many of the individuals they serve, according to Andrea Swope, Executive Director of Christian County SB40. “The board had a 10-year goal to acquire transportation opportunities in Christian county, and after one meeting with Jeff Robinson, OATS Transit Regional Manager, that goal became a reality,” Swope said. “CC Links has enjoyed working with OATS Transit to meet the transportation needs of our community.”
In less than two years, the partnership has allowed over 80 individuals to meet their employment goals in the community. “By breaking down the barriers to employment through community transportation options, and partnering with OATS Transit, we have been able to live out our mission to see people first and help our individuals to live the highest quality of life,” Swope said. We are grateful for this partnership to help meet the transportation needs in Christian County.”
Great strides have been made in the 39 years these tax levies have been in existence. Similar such tax levies are the Senate Bill 351, which provides resources to seniors over age 60.
Missouri has 52 out of its 114 Counties that have passed a senior services levy.
Missouri Senate Bill 40 may mean little to most, but to those with developmental disabilities, it means a better way of life.