CDR Demands Critical Policy Changes and Representation of Disabled Individuals

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The Center for Disability Rights acknowledges Governor Hochul’s efforts to bring transparency to state government, but demands more – including critical policy changes and representation of Disabled individuals in her administration.

The Center for Disability Rights is encouraged by Governor Hochul’s commitment to transparency related to the untimely deaths of thousands of Disabled New Yorkers in nursing facilities but CDR demands that she go further.

“It isn’t enough to be transparent about the number of COVID-19 deaths related to nursing facilities in our state or address so-call quality of care issues related to COVID-19,” said Bruce Darling, President and CEO of the Center for Disability Rights. “No one reports the deaths on their watch as a ‘quality measure’ and, instead of continuing ableist policies of her predecessor, Governor Hochul needs to show leadership by working with disability rights advocates to save our lives.”

Research has demonstrated that institutionalized individuals were 11 times more likely to be infected with COVID-19 and die compared to their peers receiving services in the community. This research confirmed that the community-based individuals – if infected – were as likely to die from COVID-19, but because they were in the community were at far reduced risk of infection. Receiving community-based services saved people’s lives. Consequently, over 15,000 deaths of institutionalized Disabled and elderly New Yorkers could have been prevented had the state been actively working to reduce institutionalization and give people an opportunity to leave the facilities during the pandemic.

“Disabled New Yorkers were stuck in these death-traps with a virus stalking the halls,” said Bobbie Wallach a Board Member of the Center for Disabilities Rights who was formerly institutionalized in a nursing facility. “We urged Governor Cuomo to use FEMA funds for emergency housing and emergency Medicaid funds to provide community-based supports to give them an option to leave and protect themselves. Instead, they were left there to die.”

The Center feels that the situation is particularly appalling because the Cuomo administration never really implemented its own 2013 plan to reduce the long-stay nursing facility population by 10% over five years. “Those were not just people we could have freed from unwanted institutionalization,” said Darling. “Some were lives we could have saved from the pandemic.”

Governor Hochul needs to understand that the ableist structure of the state government she has inherited has left Disabled New Yorkers unrepresentative and disenfranchised. This has allowed critical gaps to form in New York’s infrastructure supporting Disabled New Yorkers. For example, Deaf people were forced to sue the Governor to secure sign language interpretation during his (formerly) Emmy-award-winning daily pressers. Even after that decision, state webinars educating people about the virus and vaccine were not accessible to Deaf individuals. Blind people experienced access issues with the State’s vaccination website and others noted there was no process to request a reasonable accommodation when being vaccinated.

“There were not enough visibly-disabled individuals in senior policy-making positions in the Cuomo administration,” said Zach Garafalo, CDR’s Manager of Governmental Affairs. “No wonder they got it all wrong. Governor Hochul needs to do better.”

CDR is urging Governor Hochul to immediately sign legislation reinstating the Office of the Advocate for People with Disabilities (A. 3130 [Steck] / S. 1836 [Skoufis]). This legislation was previously vetoed by Governor Cuomo. 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.

“She can immediately demonstrate her commitment to diversity and the Disability Community by hiring a Chief Disability Officer when she signs the legislation reestablishing the Office of the Advocate,” said Garafalo. “That would send a powerful message that Governor Hochul and her administration value the voices – and lives – of Disabled New Yorkers.”