Disability Justice: An Accessibility & Inclusion Overhaul for New York City
Over 1 million New York City residents have a disability. Though we constitute a large portion of the City’s population, we are consistently excluded from our local communities, lacking access to necessary resources, support, and infrastructure. Instead of having full access to the City, people with disabilities are left to live separately and unequally. Disabled New Yorkers lack meaningful representation in government, which directly correlates to the lack of public policy, care, services and attention our needs garner.
As a disabled New Yorker, I will not allow the needs of the disabled community--my community--to continue to be overlooked. Disability justice, accessibility, and inclusion will be at the center of every decision I make in office.
Disabled New Yorkers should not only survive but thrive. Our movement’s goal is to ensure that New Yorkers experience and participate in City life with dignity and ease. I am advancing a robust platform that contains policies to improve access and inclusion while promoting disability justice in New York City.
- Expand the inclusion of disabled New Yorkers in vaccine eligibility and for at-home vaccinations. Many disabled New Yorkers are unsure of eligibility or still ineligible to receive the vaccine. The state must work with disability advocates to revise eligibility standards to include more New Yorkers with a disability and implement a plan to vaccinate more seniors and disabled New Yorkers at home.
- Increase accountability and transparency for COVID-19’s impact on nursing homes. New Yorkers still do not know the true impact COVID-19 has had on nursing homes and congregant care facilities. We must mandate strict reporting requirements, oversight and create accountability mechanisms to hold elected officials and nursing home leadership responsible for their actions to withhold information from families and the public.
- Increase funding and support services to empower New Yorkers to remain at home for care, instead of being put in a nursing home or care facility. Seeing the impact COVID-19 has had on nursing home and other care facilities, New York must robustly fund programs that provide care at home for disabled New Yorkers instead of placing them in congregant care facilities. The City and State must expand existing programs like CDPAP that use public funds to pay family members or others to care for New Yorkers at home.
Transportation & Streetscape
- Make every subway station and method of public transportation fully accessible and ADA-compliant. Currently less than 25% of the New York City public transit system is accessible, making it impossible for millions of New Yorkers to get around. We must advance a MTA and City budget that prioritizes these infrastructure updates.
- Expand the number of disabled parking spots and permits. With so much of our public transit system inaccessible, disabled New Yorkers often drive in order to more easily and comfortably travel. The City must expand the number of disabled parking spaces throughout the five boroughs and issue more permits.
- Make crosswalks safer for Blind, low-sight, Deaf, and hard of hearing New Yorkers. The City must update our streetscape to expand the use of tone and audio alerts for crossing, while increasing and improving textured curb cuts and visual traffic indicators.
- Fund infrastructure improvements to ensure sidewalks are smooth and safe for wheelchair user and other mobility aids. Cracks, breaks and uneven surfaces on New York City sidewalks impact disabled New Yorkers’ ability to safely travel their communities. We must increase funding for infrastructure and resurface and repave unsafe sidewalks to support safe access to our streetscape.
- Improve storm responses with disabled New Yorkers’ needs in mind. Snowstorms and major weather events create accessibility crises throughout the five boroughs. The City needs to expedite clean-up for accessible transit services, bus stops, cross walks, curb cuts, and sidewalks.
- Protect Access-A-Ride and expand affordable service. Access-A-Ride, a service that provides public transportation for eligible customers with disabilities or health conditions that prevent their use of public buses and subways, is a vital service for many disabled New Yorkers. It is currently plagued by long wait times, missed pick-ups, and increasing need and cost. The City must protect and expand this program by increasing funding to add vehicles to the fleet and ensure every ride, no matter the distance, costs no more than half the value of a MetroCard swipe.
- Add benches and bus shelters at all MTA bus stops. The removal of benches and lack of bus shelters at MTA bus stops negatively impacts New Yorkers in a variety of ways, especially disabled New Yorkers. The MTA must advance a plan to put benches and bus shelters at every stop and ensure wait-time seating is available. Additionally, the benches must not be hostile architecture or disenfranchise use by unhoused New Yorkers.
Employment & Financial Stability
- End the subminimum wage for disabled New Yorkers. I will work tirelessly with my colleagues in the New York State Assembly and Senate to support and organize support for legislation to guarantee all New Yorkers earn at least the full minimum wage.
- Expand employment opportunities and financial independence for disabled New Yorkers. Currently only 1 in 5 New Yorkers with disabilities are employed. The City can and must do more to help train and place disabled New Yorkers in sustainable employment. Through expanding programs like NYC: ARTWORK and Empowered NYC and partnering with disability advocacy, service, and job readiness programs, the City can empower, and support disabled New Yorkers struggling to find employment and establish their financial independence.
- Increase awareness of the ABLE ACT. The New York Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act allows individuals with disabilities to save for qualified disability expenses without the risk of losing their benefits from assistance programs like Social Security and Medicaid. This is vital to disabled New Yorkers who receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and are forced to be very strict with income and expenses, so they retain the benefit if it appears, they are making, acquiring, and saving more money than the program’s eligibility rules allow. As Council Member, I will prioritize awareness and implementation of the ABLE Act to help financially empower disabled New Yorkers.
- Implement flexible scheduling and staffing for New York City workers. COVID-19 illustrated how employee flexibility can preserve productivity on the job. Disabled New Yorkers have long called for flexible work from home options and are benefiting from their expanded presence during the pandemic. The City must codify this newfound flexibility in scheduling and remote work so disabled New Yorkers are not discriminated against once again by the mandated return to in-person work. Additionally, as COVID-19 becomes classified as a disability for those experiencing long term health effects from the virus, New York City must increase workplace flexibility in this manner. As Council Member, I will introduce legislation to offer scheduling flexibility for employees at City agencies and offices, working to expand the schedule changes to additional workers over time.
- Protect public hospitals and ensure they continue accepting Medicare and Medicaid. Funding cuts hurt our public hospitals, leading to closures and limited care. Our hospitals have also started altering what Medicare and Medicaid healthcare coverage they accept, making it even more difficult for disabled New Yorkers to access healthcare. Disabled New Yorkers rely on public hospitals and healthcare, so the City must protect our institutions and ensure they maintain healthcare access for all New Yorkers, regardless of what insurance they have.
Arts & Culture
- Create free voucher for entry and membership to public and private cultural institutions for disabled New Yorkers. The City must further expand affordable access to New York’s prized publicly controlled and privately run cultural institutions for disabled New Yorkers, and guarantee caregivers access free of charge. This program can emulate the student, veteran and senior discounts currently offered.
- Increase funding for the CreateNYC Disability Forward Fund. Started as a pilot program based on recommendations from CreateNYC, this program funds organizations that deepen engagement in the arts for people with disabilities as artists, cultural workers, and audience members.
Housing & Economic Development
- Enact a citywide housing policy that ensures all new housing built be fully accessible and affordable for New Yorkers with varying disabilities. Disabled New Yorkers need affordable accessible housing. Our housing crisis will only be solved through stringent standards in residential development. The City must ensure that all new development, regardless of size, is fully accessible and compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). More targeted use of the area median incomes used to build new housing will ensure new, accessible buildings are affordable for disabled New Yorkers and not solely constructed for market rate or luxury offerings.
- Adopt the Inclusive Design Guidelines as a citywide development policy that ensures all new public and private construction is fully accessible. Too often, construction ignores the needs of disabled New Yorkers and sidesteps the functionality of spaces. The City must build upon the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities Inclusive Design Guidelines to advance a policy that ensures full accessibility and considerate design in new construction.
- Advance infrastructure updates for accessible public accommodations. Currently, public parks, playgrounds, libraries, and other public accommodations remain inaccessible. The City must advance an audit of remaining public infrastructure that needs to be upgraded and implement a time-bound plan for all necessary upgrades.
- Fund the implementation of Local Law 51. Passed in 2017, LL51 mandates installation of an induction loop assistive listening system or successor technology in at least one of any planned assembly areas for new construction or rehabilitation projects with City financing and an estimated construction cost of $950,000 or above. LL51’s delayed implementation negatively impacts Deaf and hard of hearing New Yorkers: it needs to be prioritized for funding.
- Expand rental freeze and assistance programs. The City must expand rental freeze and assistance programs to serve a larger population of disabled New Yorkers, many of whom also struggle with employment and financial stability yet currently do not qualify for these programs.
- Improve supportive learning services, increase funding for students with disabilities in the New York City Department of Education system, and integrate District 75 schools in more communities. The needs of students with disabilities are still largely overlooked in New York City public schools. Separate and unequal education is unacceptable, and New York City must increase funding and staff for supportive and inclusive services in public schools, so every student has the option of an integrated educational placement.
- Expand restorative justice practices and end the use of carceral-style punishments. Disabled students disproportionately face detentions, suspensions and behavioral discipline in schools, including the use of restraints. New York City must immediately re-train school safety personnel with a focus on restorative justice, child and youth development, and de-escalation—and ensure a specific training module on identifying and responding to disabled students. New York City must also abolish the use of mechanical restraints on children with disabilities and in emotional crises.
- Institute the current Council’s proposed Office of Community Mental Health within the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and include stipulations to protect all classes of disability for students in crisis within their potential Citywide Mental Health Emergency Protocol.
Community-Based Social Services & Awareness
- Create a new division at the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities to connect disabled New Yorkers with public services. The City needs to revolutionize the Office for People with Disabilities and make it more service-oriented to connect New Yorkers with all the services available to them. It is too difficult to understand one’s program eligibility or how to apply for services. This new office would work to organize and empower disabled New Yorkers to ensure they are using every resource on hand.
- Increase outreach to and services for disabled New Yorkers. My office will host monthly forums and conferences informing individuals about their rights and resources they can access to help with rent relief, healthcare, employment, and other needs. Every Council Member must do the same. I will work with my colleagues to mandate, legislatively or through rulemaking, that their offices host these monthly meetings and events.
- Expand American Sign Language (ASL) Direct program and ASL interpretation at public meetings. ASL Direct is a video conferencing line where New Yorkers can be directly connected to an information specialist fluent in ASL. Not only does the City need to expand this program so every public office, subway station, and government entity has access to it; we need to expand ASL services at City Council, community board meetings, and other public gatherings.
- Create a resiliency and evacuation plan to meet the needs of disabled New Yorkers. Hurricane Sandy and other major weather events have shown the gaps in service and preparation to safely evacuate and support the needs of disabled New Yorkers. Extended power outages are especially devastating for disabled New Yorkers who rely on things like electric wheelchairs, electric medical devices like nebulizers, and other treatments, leaving them even more vulnerable in natural disasters. We must work with disability and environmental advocates to create a storm preparedness plan that explicitly outlines how the City will evacuate or otherwise support disabled New Yorkers during major weather events.
Policing & Public Safety
- Create and enforce a culture of inclusive and restorative justice in public safety for disabled New Yorkers. Violent encounters between disabled New Yorkers and police are stoked by fear, adversarial and uncompromising protocols, misinterpretation, and marginalization. Our current police force lacks the sensitivity, understanding and training to address the needs of disabled New Yorkers, further demonstrated by lawsuits against the NYPD for discrimination and abuse. To better protect and empower disabled New Yorkers, New York City must reimagine public safety and the administration of criminal justice to realize racial, socio-economic and disability justice.
- Review NYPD’s procedural accommodations for interactions with disabled New Yorkers. Reimagining public safety is our long-term policy goal, but disabled New Yorkers need more immediate action to end discrimination and fear of police interactions. As Council Member, I will work with my colleagues to review all policies on policing for interactions with and accommodations for disabled New Yorkers, looking to those in the disability community harmed by police brutality to put forth proposals for force education, awareness, and communication improvements.
- Require disability policing issues and rights education and encourage disability representation on the Civilian Complaint Review Board. The Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) is one of few mechanisms the City has for oversight of the NYPD and it lacks disability representation and education. As Council Member, I will introduce legislation to require CCRB member education on disability rights and issues with policing. I will also work to appoint at least one representative from the disabled community to the CCRB. Additionally, I will support legislation to make CCRB rulings binding and remove the Police Commissioner as final disciplinary authority.
- Increase education for small businesses on grant and tax program eligibility to help offset costs of accessibility updates. There are state and federal programs that offer grants and tax incentives for small businesses to update their store, restaurant, or other business to be accessible and alleviate the financial impact of doing so. Unfortunately, many businesses are not aware these programs exist and consequently do not bolster their accessibility out of cost concerns. As Council Member, I will work with the Department of Small Business services to implement an educational program that shares information on the grants, tax incentives, and other programs businesses are eligible for to perform accessibility updates and renovations.
- Increase funding for grants and programs that empower small businesses to become fully accessible. Many businesses in our community are inaccessible but can easily become accessible with financial support from the City. To incentivize a more inclusive neighborhood, we must work with the Department of Small Business Services to increase funding for grants and programs that alleviate the financial impact making these updates can have on a small business.
 Getting It Right: Building Effective Civilian Review Boards to Oversee Police (shu.edu)