The Center for Disability Rights (CDR) commends Governor Andrew Cuomo for establishing the Office of Gun Violence Prevention. Disabled people are not immune to gun violence. In fact, gun violence results in New Yorkers becoming disabled – either through physical injury or the emotional impact. CDR underscores the Governor’s remarks which treat gun violence as a public health crisis. During 2020, in NYC alone, 1,868 people were shot.
While CDR applauds the Governor’s decision to establish this important office, the organization calls upon Governor Cuomo to finish the important work to address another public health crisis facing Disabled New Yorkers – COVID-19. The organization urges Governor Cuomo to sign legislation passed by the state legislature to re-establish the Office of the Advocate for People with Disabilities.
“While express our unending support to those whose lives have been impacted by gun violence and mourn those who have needlessly lost their lives, we remind Governor Cuomo of the continuing public health crisis has killed more than 15,000 Disabled New Yorkers warehoused in nursing facilities and other institutions. We implore Governor Cuomo to employ the same public health framework to confront New York’s deadly reliance on congregate housing and institutional settings by re-establishing the Office of the Advocate for People with Disabilities,” said Rebecca Payton Senior Director of Independent Living Services. “We recently lost a long-time staff member who became Disabled due to gun violence. Rasheem Broughton’s life was profoundly changed in a moment and because of the state’s failure to ensure adequate community-based services and supports, his life was cut short. His death is not just a personal loss; it is a failure of our state.”
The Office of the Advocate for People with Disabilities was originally established by Governor Mario Cuomo and represented the interests of people with disabilities in State government. This bill reinstates that office which was eliminated in 2013 when the Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities (CQCAPD) – the Office of the Advocate’s successor agency – was absorbed into the Justice Center. The vital advocacy component did not survive and left disabled New Yorkers without a voice in State government.
Although a bill to reestablish the office was passed by the legislature in 2019, Governor Cuomo vetoed that bill, promising instead to hire a Chief Disability Officer. That was an empty promise and an unacceptable way to address the needs of 1.1 million New Yorkers with disabilities.
“A single staff person – even with a fancy title – wouldn’t have the skills and expertise to meet the needs of all Disabled New Yorkers,” said Bruce Darling, CDR’s President and CEO. “A second veto – particularly when so many Disabled New Yorkers needlessly lost their lives during the pandemic – is truly unacceptable. If an Office of the Advocate for People with Disabilities was in place prior to the pandemic, it could have provided a life-saving resource for state agencies.”
Advocates point to the fact that Deaf people needed to sue the State to secure sign language interpretation during Governor Cuomo’s daily press conferences last spring. Even after that decision, state webinars educating people about the virus and vaccine were not accessible to Deaf individuals. Additionally, Blind individuals complained about access issues with the state’s vaccination website and others noted there was no process to request a reasonable accommodation for being vaccinated. The Office of the Advocate for People with Disabilities, which is intended to oversee the State’s implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and ensure disabled New Yorkers have access to critical information, programs and services, would have helped the state avoid these issues – or at least mitigated them.
In his announcement about the Office of Gun Violence Prevention, Governor Cuomo declared “when we see an injustice we don’t look the other way, we stand up and fight it because that’s the New York way.” CDR calls on Governor Cuomo to give power to these words for New Yorkers with Disabilities.
“As Governor Cuomo builds back a stronger New York, he can channel everything that makes New Yorkers with disabilities #NYTough into a reinvigorated Office of the Advocate,” said Zach Garafalo, Manager of Government Affairs. “This July, we will celebrate the 31st anniversary of the signing of Americans with Disabilities Act. As we approach the anniversary, I cannot think of a better way for Governor Cuomo to champion the spirit of his father, the ideals of the Empire State and the voices of 1.1 million New Yorkers with disabilities than signing this bill in July. Reinstating the Office of the Advocate will be another example of how #NYLeads.”