101st Assembly District
Kevin Cahill

Room 557 LOB, Albany, NY 12248 • (518) 455-4436
Governor Clinton Building, One Albany Ave., Suite G-4
Kingston, NY 12401 • (845) 338-9610

For Immediate Release
Date: December 1, 2001
Contact: Kathy Keyser
(845) 338-9610

Assemblymember Cahill's Able Column - The Importance of a Building Code that is Friendly to New Yorkers with Disabilities - December 2001

First, I'd like to take this opportunity to extend my deepest condolences to all who have been personally affected by the senseless attacks on America that occurred on September 11th. I remain saddened by the tragic loss of our emergency workers and those who were not able to evacuate the buildings in time. Particularly, I am deeply troubled by accounts of people with disabilities - including a former co-worker of mine - that were trapped in the towers. So many without physical limitations take the ability to run from danger for granted -- but not anymore.

Indeed, the tragedy highlights the importance of uniformity, wide open spaces, and true accessibility for all New Yorkers, especially the disability community. In fact, stairways in ample width and equipped with proper evacuation equipment did save lives that day. Network Plus employees Michael Benfante and John Cerqueira helped carry a disabled woman down from the 68th floor of the North Tower, removing her wheelchair and placing her into a special chair in the stairwell designed for such emergencies. Once secured, they guided her during the hour-long trip to safety - only one small example of how quality, accessible equipment for people with disabilities can make all the difference, and even spell the difference between life and death.

Such tales of extraordinary courage reaffirm my belief that New York's disability advocates are just in demanding that the New York State Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code Council maintain the existing degree of accessibility in multi-unit apartment dwellings across the state. Our resolve ought to be stronger than ever to ensure that people with disabilities are best equipped to lead safe, independent and productive lives.

By now, many of you are aware that New York State is slated to institute a new International Building Code (IBC). While many of the changes set forth in the new proposal will be improvements to building in New York, a few have the potential to do great harm. For those of you new to this forum, part of what is included in the proposed IBC is a reduction in the standards presently required for people with disabilities. Under New York's current code, all newly-constructed apartments in buildings with elevators and all ground floor apartments are required to have accessible routes and spaces, particularly at doorways and in bathrooms.

If the IBC takes effect, the number of accessible apartments constructed to accommodate wheelchair users and other people with disabilities will dramatically decrease. Yet, even after months of intense pressure in the forms of press conferences, letter writing campaigns, phone calls, and even the Assembly passage of a bill to permanently include the current accessibility provisions in New York State law, the Building Code Council has yet to reconsider and preserve the accessibility standards that New Yorkers have come to expect and rely upon for the past 17 years.

Now, in light of the recent attacks, it is more important than ever to not only maintain the maneuverability and accessibility standards for people with disabilities, but to improve them. In this time of changing priorities, I will continue to urge the Building Code Council to recognize its responsibility to the disabled people of New York. Should the Building Code Council's final decision not land on our side, rest assured that the fight is not over. A new legislative session is around the corner, and this fight will begin anew.

Assemblymember Kevin A. Cahill is the Chair of the New York State Assembly Task Force on People with Disabilities. Anyone with questions, comments or suggestions can reach the Task Force office at 518-455-4592.