New York maps services for disabled

It started with family requests. Parents of disabled children asked the New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities for an easier way to find services in their area.

The department last year added to its Web site a geographic information system that lets users map the location of support services for the mentally retarded and disabled anywhere in the state.

The department provides mental health and other support services to 135,000 people throughout the state, said Deborah Sturm Rausch, director of public affairs.

The interactive GIS, at, shows the location of state-sponsored services as well as those provided by 850 private agencies. A mapping link takes visitors to the GIS application, where they can search by address, ZIP code and county, service type such as counseling, and other categories.

Given an address and the kind of services needed, the site maps the area and indicates service locations with colored dots. Users can zoom in for specific street information or zoom out for a broader picture.

The office is testing an internal browser component accessible only to service coordinators. They can find, for example, how many residents live in a group home and what medical services they receive. Service coordinators are assigned a password by the department's information support services staff.

The scale of the caseload is daunting, Rausch said. There are 200 service coordinators in the Central Developmental Disabilities Services Office alone. The internal site has saved caseworkers' time, which they can channel back into their service to people, she said.

The site uses MapInfo's suite of GIS products, including MapExtreme Java Edition, MapMarker, StreetPro and MapInfo Professional, plus an Oracle database engine.

The GIS that underlies the system has 30 data layers, said Robert J. Vasko, director of information support services for the department. He estimated that 15 percent to 20 percent of visitors to the site are looking for services in their area.

'The site has been terrific for families,' Rausch said. 'Government without walls is working in New York.'

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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