News... from the New York State Assembly Task Force on People with Disabilities
Amy Paulin, Chair square Sheldon Silver, Speaker

Assemblywoman Paulin

NYS Assembly Task Force on People with Disabilities


A Message from the Chair...

November 2005

Dear Friend,

I would like to take this opportunity as new Chair of the Assembly Task Force on People with Disabilities to thank the many advocates who worked tirelessly this year. Without your many efforts, my first year in this position would have been even more challenging. Together we defeated proposals in the Executive Budget to cut Medicaid long term care services and move vocational rehabilitation responsibilities from the State Education Department to the Department of Labor. In addition, we were able to restore the $536,600 cut to New York’s independent living centers.

Furthermore, we also formulated an aggressive agenda that we should be proud of. We launched a strong campaign to extend both the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage program (EPIC) and the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption program (SCRIE) to people with disabilities. (While our EPIC efforts were not realized, the SCRIE bill was signed into law, Chapter 188, on July 12, 2005.) We successfully introduced and passed in the Assembly two bills which create an accessible housing registry and reinforce housing protections currently offered to people with disabilities under Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act on the state level. The Assembly also passed three bills that reinforce the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on the state level because we recognize that the ADA is under frequent scrutiny by the U.S. Supreme Court, which puts its protections in danger.

Please be assured that I will do all that I can to continue dialogue and negotiations with my Senate colleagues and Executive staff regarding our most critical issues. But now, my fellow advocates, much of the work lies in your hands. It is up to you to convince the Senate and Governor that our priorities MUST become their priorities. As always, if you have any questions, comments or concerns, please call my Task Force office at 518-455-4592.

Amy Paulin, Chair
New York State Assembly
Task Force on People with Disabilities

Assemblymember Amy Paulin greets Lisa Hoffman, Disability Rights Advocate for the Regional Center for Independent Living, on Legislative Disability Awareness Day.

Legislative Disability Awareness Day

The New York State Assembly Task Force on People with Disabilities and the Committee on Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities co-sponsored the annual Legislative Disability Awareness Day (LDAD) on May 18, 2005 in Albany. At this event, Brad Williams, Executive Director of the New York State Independent Living Council, was presented with the first "Dr. Henry Viscardi, Jr." Advocacy Award, which was created to honor individuals in the name of this legendary activist and supporter of disability rights.

Over 50 organizations that serve the disability community displayed exhibits to provide information and demonstrate the services and opportunities that are available to people with disabilities.

In addition, four seminars on issues of interest to people with disabilities were also held. The seminars were held on: "Infusing the Principles of Recovery into the Mental Health System," "An Update on Election Reform in New York State," "Emergency Preparedness for People with Disabilities," and "The Status of Olmstead in New York State."

Furthermore, a sixth-grade poster contest with an exhibit of submitted artwork was held. The winner of the Legislative Disability Awareness Day Poster Contest, Gary Jennings from Tuckahoe Middle School, was presented with an award for his entry.

2005 LDAD Legislation Agenda

As part of LDAD tradition, the Assembly passed a package of legislation aimed at making the lives of people with disabilities easier. This year’s legislative package included:

  • A.60 (Sanders)/S.1913 (Robach) - Directs the establishment and administration of a statewide program for telephone access for all New Yorkers, including the hearing and visually impaired.

  • A.815 (Stringer) - Requires public officers and bodies to provide interpreters and assistive listening devices for the hearing impaired at public hearings under certain conditions.

  • A.1092 (Stringer)/S.5891 (Golden) - Includes persons with disabilities within the definition of head of household for the senior citizens’ tax abatement for rent-controlled and regulated property.

  • A.1852 (Koon) - Provides that ballots for all elections shall be made available in Braille, upon the request of a blind or visually impaired voter.

  • A.2159 (Lifton) - Waives state’s sovereign immunity to liability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.

  • A.4082 (Weisenberg) - Requires ATMs to use both audio and visual systems of relaying messages to its customers.

  • A.5255 (Sanders) - Requires the department of health to promulgate rules and regulations concerning hard of hearing patients and others.

  • A.5737 (Cahill) - Requires shopping centers or shopping facilities having at least three separate retail stores and at least twenty off-street parking spaces to provide handicapped parking spaces of a minimum of five percent of such parking spaces or ten such spaces, whichever is less.

  • A.6328 (Cahill)/S.3921 (Spano) - Clarifies the scope of protections against discrimination on the basis of disability under the New York State Human Rights Law in the area of government services to be consistent with the federal ADA and the current policies and practices of the Division of Human Rights.

  • A.7337 (Paulin)/S.4873 (Morahan) - Ensures that access aisles of handicapped parking spaces are wide enough for people with disabilities to enter and exit their vehicles.

  • A.7338 (Paulin)/S.4871 (Morahan) - Prevents people from parking in the access aisles of handicapped parking spaces by further identifying access aisles with signs that are distinctly different from the signs that are currently required to be posted to identify handicapped accessible parking spaces.

  • A.7339 (Paulin)/S.4796 (Flanagan) - Ensures, whenever feasible, that polling places be designated on a line of public transportation to enable individuals, particularly those with physical disabilities, who do not have their own transportation to get to and from their polling places.

  • A.7867 (Paulin)/S.4933 (Morahan) - Requires any program or activity relating to housing which receives federal financial assistance to comply with the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

  • A.7868 (Paulin)/S.4875 (Morahan) - Enacts a New York State housing registry containing up-to-date information regarding accessible housing statewide for people with disabilities.

School Bus Bill Signed into Law

Students with disabilities who get to and from school by school bus will now travel in a safer environment, thanks to legislation signed into law on August 9th, (Chapter 453 of 2005) requiring new school buses which transport three or more children with disabilities who use wheelchairs or other assistive mobility devices to be equipped with automatic fire suppression systems.

One of the most significant changes to pupil transportation in New York over the years is the increased number of children with special needs who are transported daily on accessible school buses. According to the New York State Department of Transportation, there are currently 4,400 buses in the state which are equipped to transport students who use wheelchairs or other assistive mobility devices. A bus fire involving children who are typically secured with multiple seatbelts and lock-down devices presents a potentially disastrous scenario.

Nobody wants to think of children trapped in a school bus fire - especially those that cannot evacuate the vehicle on their own. But school bus fires have happened. In fact, there have been at least two bus fires this year in New York State alone. Fortunately, no children were killed in either of these incidents.

On January 21, 2005 in Staten Island, a school bus fire trapped eight children with developmental disabilities between the ages of two and five. The fire spread quickly from the engine compartment to the passenger cabin. Had the bus been equipped with a fire suppression system, the driver would not have had to use his knife and cut away the seat belts, which melted from the heat, in order to get the children off the bus. Fortunately he and the matron were able to save all of the children.

A second incident occurred on February 15, 2005 in the Bronx when a bus transporting five children under the age of five erupted in flames. It took the driver, the matron and a passer-by to get the children off the bus before the gas-tank exploded.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, approximately 90% of all bus and vehicle fires are caused by a failure originating in the engine compartment. These fires spread quickly and can engulf the entire bus within minutes. An engine-mounted automatic fire suppression system extinguishes flames within the engine compartment instantaneously and prevents a fire from spreading to other parts of the bus.

Other Important Disability Legislation

The majority of legislation related to disabilities passed the Assembly in honor of Legislative Disability Awareness Day. Other measures of importance to people with disabilities that passed this session include:

  • A.120 (Cahill) - Requires each polling place to be accessible to voters with physical disabilities and provides guidelines which shall be in accordance with the accessibility requirements mandated pursuant to the federal ADA, as amended.

  • A.6008 (Sanders)/S.1899 (Robach) - Creates a New York State interagency council for services to persons who are deaf, deaf-blind or hard of hearing to promote a comprehensive service system for this population.

  • A.7294 (Paulin)/S.5074 (Spano) - Clarifies the scope of protections against discrimination on the basis of disability under the New York State Human Rights Law in the area of public accommodations to be consistent with the federal ADA and the current policies and practices of the Division of Human Rights.

  • A.8697 (Paulin)/S.5734 (Morahan) - Increases income eligibility for real property tax exemption on property owned by one or more persons with disabilities in five year increments.

  • A.8969 (Wright)/S.5877 (Flanagan) - Enacts the Election Reform and Modernization Act of 2005, which, among other things, requires that at least one machine in every polling place: have a voting device with tactile discernible controls for voters with limited reach and limited hand dexterity; have an audio voting feature that communicates the complete ballot in a spoken voice for the blind or visually impaired; and, be capable of being equipped with a sip-and-puff device or sip-and-puff-like device.

Your ideas for legislative initiatives are important to us. Please drop us a line and share your thoughts.

Public Hearings on Delays in Funding of Durable Medical Equipment for People with Severe Disabilities

The Assembly Health Committee, the Committee on Oversight, Analysis and Investigation, and the Task Force on People with Disabilities recently held two public hearings on delays in funding of durable medical equipment for people with severe disabilities. The first hearing was held July 19, 2005 in New York City, and the second hearing was held November 15, 2005 in Albany.

In recent months, children and others with severe disabilities have been facing extraordinary delays in getting Medicaid approval for repairs or replacements for worn out or broken wheelchairs or for new equipment. These delays often make it impossible for people to leave their homes and can cause prolonged pain, damage to health and physical injury.

Medicaid funding of "durable medical equipment" (DME) requires prior approval by the state Department of Health (DOH). The DOH Regional Medicaid Office in New York City, which handled all of the funding requests for New York City and Long Island, was closed in November 2004, with little public notice. Operations were moved to Albany. However, DOH admits it did not prepare staff for this change. As a result, a large backlog of funding requests was amassed. It has been indicated that DOH has also been rejecting a large volume of applications, and is also frequently requiring additional and often unnecessary or duplicative information.

In February, the Assembly Committee Chairs met with DOH representatives and were assured that DOH was working to resolve the problems. However, significant problems, and possible violations of DOH regulations, remain. For that reason, the Assembly held these public hearings in the effort to accumulate more information from the people who are suffering from this problem. Assembly staff is currently reviewing all of the received testimonies and exploring possible solutions. For more information, please call 518-455-4592.

2005 LDAD Photos
Brad Williams, Executive Director of the New York State Independent Living Council, accepts the first annual Legislative Disability Awareness Day "Dr. Henry Viscardi, Jr." Advocacy Award.
Bruce Darling, Organizer of New York State ADAPT and Tracie Crandell, Policy Analyst for the Center for Disability Rights, conduct a seminar on the status of Olmstead in New York State.
Bruce Darling, Organizer of New York State ADAPT and Tracie Crandell, Policy Analyst for the Center for Disability Rights, conduct a seminar on the status of Olmstead in New York State.

For More Information Contact...
New York State Assembly Task Force on People with Disabilities
Kimberly T. Hill, Director
Agency Building 4, 13th Floor, Albany, New York 12248
Phone: (518) 455-4592 square Fax: (518) 455-7099

New York State Assembly
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