Thank you, Michael [Assembly Member Cusick] for your gracious introduction and thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your warm reception.
My friends, welcome to Albany and to our annual Legislative Disabilities Awareness Day.
I offer a warm welcome from my colleagues on both sides of the aisle along with our best wishes for an energizing and enjoyable day here at the Empire State Plaza.
Thank you for all being here to represent the thousands of New Yorkers with disabilities who could not journey to their state capital today. Rest assured, you will always find leaders you can count on, leaders who are listening to you, and leaders who are advocating for you here in Albany.
We are - and will always be - your allies in the fight to ensure that all New Yorkers with disabilities receive equal access, equal protection, and equal rights.
We fight for you and we are honored to be hosting you today.
Of course, you have already heard from one of your staunchest allies and advocates in Albany, the Chair of our Task Force for People with Disabilities, Assembly Member Michael Cusick. Also joining us today is my friend and cosponsor for this important day, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb.
Let me also acknowledge the Chairman of our Mental Health Committee, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, as well as the Ranking Minority Member of the Mental Health Committee, Assemblyman Steve Katz.
On their behalf, and on behalf of our colleagues, let me thank Kim Hill, the talented Executive Director of our Task Force, for her leadership and her exceptional work and also her excellent team who organizes this important event.
Assembly members from both sides of the aisle are here today because fairness, justice, equality, safety and opportunity know no political boundaries. We ALL fight for you.
I am pleased to welcome Patrice Kuntzler and Mark Turan from the Henry Viscardi School to our festivities. It is also notable in that May 10th would have been Doctor Viscardi's 100th birthday. A pioneer in the field of education for children with disabilities, it is my privilege to celebrate his life with all of you.
It is my pleasure to acknowledge this year's winner of the "Doctor Henry J. Viscardi, Jr. Advocacy Award." Please join me in congratulating Clifton Perez of Troy.
Let me also offer my congratulations to the many talented young artists who participated in Assembly Member Michael Cusick's "Legislative Disabilities Awareness Day" poster contest.
Out of hundreds of entries, 18 were selected as winners. I commend everyone who participated and I congratulate the winners on their beautiful posters and their dedication to promoting equality.
I applaud these young artists and all gathered here today for your efforts. You are overcoming profound barriers in your fight for equity, opportunity and inclusion. Your courage and perseverance is inspiring.
Your work is a gift not just to people with disabilities but to all who believe in an open and truly Democratic society... and so I stand with my colleagues in saluting your efforts.
Later today, the Assembly expects to pass a package of legislation aimed at improving the quality of life for people with disabilities. This legislation touches on issues as varied as civil rights, housing, transportation and ballot requirements.
These bills reflect our dedication to integration, inclusion and independence. We do not believe a visual impairment should stand in the way of someone voting. We do not believe someone should be denied access due to their use of a service dog.
These are issues of social justice and freedom. Every New Yorker should be given equal access to housing and employment… should be afforded equal protection in times of disaster… and should be free to live and enjoy their lives.
While my fellow legislators and I are fighting for your rights, always know that our ears are open. We want to hear your suggestions, your recommendations, your ideas… because your work and determination is what makes New York the powerhouse of progress that it is.
I know you have a full day ahead, so let me close by telling you what I tell the audience every year at this time.
The Legislature and the Governor work for you! Every elected leader across the state is accountable to you!
Know that in the Assembly our doors are always open to each and every one of you.
So never stop demanding our attention. Your voices are heard and your demands make our democracy stronger.
Make the most of today in Albany and keep up the inspiring work that you do!