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Berkeley mobility assistance program expands in Alameda County

News Post

by Chris Treadway | Feb 10, 2021 | Article

BERKELEY — A free program to assist the growing number of people using wheelchairs and other mobility devices has been expanded to nine Alameda County cities, and organizers are trying to get the word out to potential users as COVID-19 restrictions are slowly relaxed.

The FASTER (Fast Accessible Safe Transportation and Emergency Repair) program is an expansion of city-funded services offered in Berkeley for 20 years through local nonprofit Easy Does It Emergency Services (, which provides logistical emergency support for seniors and the disabled. FASTER program staff are ready to provide emergency repair or assistance to mobility device users in Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland, Alameda, San Leandro, San Lorenzo, Hayward, and Castro Valley who experience mechanical breakdowns or are otherwise stranded.

“When people call, we essentially try to help them repair their devices over the phone. There may be some basic things that can solve the problem,” said Niquita Williams, the program’s marketing and communications coordinator. “If it doesn’t work, we can drive to the location and make a repair. Otherwise we take them home. So nobody using a mobility device has to feel unsafe.”

Program services are available from 8:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends by calling the Easy Does It Emergency Services’ Urgent Dispatch Line at 510-704-2111.

“It’s like AAA for the disability community,” said Jody Ellsworth, a FASTER driver and technician.

Much like an auto club with a tow truck, the program has five vans equipped with lifts and people who are on-call.

“In general we can get to people within 30 minutes,” said Michele Blackwell, Easy Does It’s executive director. “We aim to get to people as quickly as possible,” although response times can vary depending on traffic or other logistics. The program’s employees are cross-trained and ready to handle users’ various needs, she said.

According to a 2015 study by the Alameda County Transportation Commission, 9% of Alameda County’s population is disabled “and a high portion of seniors also have a disability,” up to 40 or 50% in some jurisdictions. “More than one in five Alameda County residents is expected to be 65 or older by 2040,” the report noted.

“This program is integral, especially during COVID because people might not have access to support that they would otherwise. On short notice we get them and their equipment to a safe place,” Blackwell said. “People with disabilities and seniors are so much more vulnerable to the impact of COVID-19. I know a person who’s only left her home three times since the onset of the pandemic, and two of those were to go to the doctor.”

At the same time, pandemic closures have delayed the rollout of the expanded program and are partly responsible for the low number of users so far.

“We haven’t had as much request for service as we would like,” Blackwell said. “Our feeling is that it’s because people are staying home and not going out as much and also that many don’t know that the service is available.”

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