In honor of the Assembly's annual Legislative Disabilities Awareness Day, Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb announced the passage today of an expansive legislative package intended to better protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination, increase access to necessary services and improve their quality of life under New York State law.
Silver and Kolb also recognized the hard work of Task Force on People with Disabilities Chair David I. Weprin, Mental Health Committee Chair Aileen M. Gunther and Ranking Minority Member of the Committee on Mental Health Steve Katz and their steadfast commitment to improving living conditions for all New Yorkers with disabilities.
"The courage and perseverance of New Yorkers with disabilities continues to inspire all of us here in the Assembly to pass legislation that truly works to make New York a better, more equitable and accessible place," Speaker Silver said. "With this package of legislation, and with today's events, we recognize the achievements of New York's disability community and the longstanding dedication of its advocates. Ensuring that all New Yorkers have the opportunity to thrive and be self-sufficient remains a top priority here in the Assembly."
Kolb said, "I am proud to once again co-host Legislative Disabilities Awareness Day, which highlights the accomplishments of people with disabilities and advocates from around the state. Today presents another opportunity to increase awareness about the current needs of people with disabilities. Last year, the Assembly Minority Conference and I helped secure the full restoration of $90 million in proposed budget cuts to programs and services for the people with developmental disabilities. I'm honored to welcome these outstanding individuals and advocates back to Albany and reaffirm our support for the disability community."
Ensuring Greater Protections for Individuals with Disabilities
Included in the Disabilities Awareness Day legislative package is a measure that would amend the state's Human Rights Law to clarify the definition of a place of public accommodation, resort or amusement to include state-and locally-owned government facilities in order to further protect the rights of individuals with disabilities (A.2070, Paulin). The bill clarifies that as long as it is determined that a proposed accommodation poses no undue burden on state or local governments, the state or municipal government would be required to remove certain barriers currently limiting access to transportation or government services and buildings for individuals with disabilities. The package helps ensure the elimination of discriminatory practices against people with disabilities, including measures that would:
An additional bill requires that, if a public assistance applicant is sent to a social service district's physician to determine if the applicant has any possible work limitations due to a disability, the physician must take into account the opinion of the applicant's treating health care practitioner (A.2960, Wright). Consideration must be given to a number of factors, such as the length and frequency of the treatment provided, the degree to which the treating provider's opinion is supported by concrete evidence and the treating provider's specialty. When the opinion differs, the social service district's physician must provide a written explanation. This helps ensure that the opinions and determinations of a public assistance applicant's current treating health care provider are given sufficient weight when making disability determinations.
Weprin said, "Legislative Disabilities Awareness Day allows us to honor the many achievements of New Yorkers with disabilities and their fellow advocates. It also allows us to not only recognize how far we have come, but also how much we can still do to help remove unnecessary and discriminatory barriers that prevent many people with disabilities from living the fulfilling, independent lives they so rightfully deserve. With all of us working together, we can enact positive changes that will make our state a more integrated and inclusive place for all New Yorkers. I thank my colleagues and the Speaker for their commitment to making today a successful, productive day for New York's disability community."
Gunther said, "Legislative Disabilities Awareness Day provides members of the Assembly, as well as staff and the public, the opportunity to learn more about the issues that matter most to individuals with disabilities, the challenges faced and the remarkable ways those challenges are overcome. The legislative package we passed today aims to improve the quality of life for individuals with disabilities and their families. It sends a clear message - every person has a right to live their lives with dignity and respect."
Katz said, "It is a privilege to once again be part of this annual event and celebrate the accomplishments of people within the disability community. Each year this event provides an excellent opportunity to learn more about the major issues facing New York's disability community. Ultimately, the information gathered at today's educational seminars and exhibits, as well as discussions in our hometown communities, will be used to craft legislation to better serve and support people and families living with disabilities."
Improving Access to Housing and Transportation Services
Recognizing the prevalent need to provide individuals with disabilities with accessible housing and transportation options, the legislative package also includes a measure that would allow tenants with conditions causing limited mobility a preference in occupying a vacant housing unit on a lower floor within the same building operated by the New York City Housing Authority (A.1742, Titus).
An additional bill would create the MTA Riders' Council for People with Disabilities. The Council would study, investigate, monitor and make recommendations with respect to the accommodations of the needs and convenience for riders with disabilities (A.945, Kellner). The bill would also add an additional non-voting member to the MTA Board appointed by the governor upon the recommendation of the Council.
Ensuring Safety in the Event of an Emergency
The Disabilities Awareness Day legislative package also includes several pieces of legislation intended to better ensure that all New Yorkers with disabilities are kept safe in the event of an emergency or natural disaster.
One such measure requires counties and cities with a population of one million or more to adopt comprehensive emergency management plans that would include provisions for the deployment of home health care and hospice personnel during local emergencies (A.6530-A, Cusick).
An additional piece of legislation would require counties to maintain a confidential registry of people of all ages with disabilities who may require evacuation assistance and shelter during a disaster (A.8816-A, Weprin). Provisions are included to offer people with disabilities the choice of whether or not to be included in the registry.
To help create safer environments in the buildings most difficult to vacate, a bill included in the legislative package would require every high-rise building owner to establish and maintain an emergency evacuation plan for disabled occupants and visitors of the building (A.8817-A, Weprin). Additionally, the owner would have the responsibility of maintaining and updating the emergency evacuation plan and ensuring that such a plan is readily available to emergency personnel. Under this measure, failure to comply would result in a fine of $500.
Increasing Access to Voting for New Yorkers with Disabilities and Protecting Veterans with Disabilities
The Assembly's Legislative Disabilities Awareness Day agenda also addresses ways to make voting easier and provide further protections for veterans with disabilities in New York State. Specifically, these measures would: