FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday December 10, 2021
CONTACT: Zach Garafalo, Manager of Government Affairs, 518-727-4668 or firstname.lastname@example.org
ROCHESTER, NY: The Center for Disability Rights and Disability Rights advocates across the state of New York are calling on Governor Hochul to sign legislation – passed unanimously by the state legislature – reestablishing the Office of the Advocate for People with Disabilities (A.3130/S.1836).
“Today, there is no state agency that represents me and ensures that I, as a Deaf woman in New York, have access to state services,” said Ayishetu Salifu, Deaf Systems Advocate for the Regional Center for Independent Living.
Advocates point out that Deaf people were forced to sue the Cuomo administration to secure sign language interpretation during his daily pressers on the pandemic. Even after the court granted them access to the pressers, state webinars educating people about the virus and vaccine were still not accessible to Deaf individuals. “Deaf individuals, like myself, were denied access to information about getting the vaccine,” said Brooke Erickson, Director of Deaf Services at the Center for Disability Rights. “If the Cuomo Administration had an Office of the Advocate for People with Disabilities, that would not have happened, and if it did, someone in state government would have been responsible for fixing it.”
“Today Governor Hochul has a chance to turn the page on what has been years of neglect of the Office of the Advocate for People with Disabilities,” said Assemblymember Phil Steck, the sponsor of the bill in the Assembly. “This office was originally created under former Governor Mario Cuomo and was later left unfunded and then dissolved. Members of the disability community across the State have been demanding for the reinstatement of this office and to provide it with the appropriate level of funding it needs to operate.” According to the Department of Health, there are close to 3 million New Yorkers who live with a disability or impairment. According to Governor Cuomo’s 2019 veto of this legislation, he expressed it was not budgeted for and too costly. At only $1 million annually, this office is not only cost-effective, but would provide desperately needed advocacy and system navigation for millions of our fellow residents and their families.”
The Office of the Advocate for People with Disabilities would serve as the state’s coordinator for the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), coordinate state activities to ensure that state programs do not discriminate against and are accessible to people with disabilities and ensure that programs provide services to people with disabilities in the most integrated setting appropriate. Additionally, the Office of the Advocate for People with Disabilities will review proposed legislation and regulations to determine their impact on people with disabilities.
When Governor Cuomo previously vetoed the legislation reestablishing this office, he promised to hire a Chief Disability Officer – a move that was perceived by advocates as tokenizing the position. “Governor Cuomo never filled the position, but even if he did, 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, President/CEO of the Center for Disability Rights and a public member of the state’s Most Integrated Setting Coordinating Council.
Darling points out that Governor Hochul promised to differentiate herself from Governor Cuomo. “This is her chance to show us that she is in fact different. The ableist and exclusionary policies implemented and perpetuated under the Cuomo administration left Disabled New Yorkers unrepresented, disenfranchised or dead. If Governor Hochul doesn’t sign this bill into law, the Disability Community will know that we should expect more of the same.”
The lack of people with disabilities working in the Hochul administration demonstrates the need for the bill, but also underscores advocates’ concerns about its prospects. “Governor Hochul has worked to build an administration which is representative of our state, but there isn’t a senior staffer from the Disability Community. She needs a trusted advisor – from our community – who understands our community, and we need a voice inside the administration. Without that, I am worried that her non-disabled staff won’t be able to impress upon her how important this bill is. Frankly, I don’t want to sit through yet another meeting where Albany policy makers ablesplain how they – without any lived experience of disability – know what’s best for us,” said Darling.
Zach Garafalo, Manager of Government Affairs at the Center for Disability Rights, is hopeful. “Governor Hochul has an opportunity to champion inclusion, ensure representation, and center the experiences of Disabled New Yorkers in discussions for years to come if she signs this legislation. Even if she isn’t initially inclined to sign the bill, if she meets personally with members of our community before making that decision, I know she will sign it.”