Disability advocates are joined by NYC Public Advocate and Gubernatorial candidate Jumaane Williams in calling on Governor Hochul to Sign Legislation Reinstating the Office of the Advocate for People with Disabilities (OAPWD)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, February 1, 2022
CONTACT: Zach Garafalo, Manager of Government Affairs, Center for Disability Rights 518-362-7916 or email@example.com
ALBANY, NY – Yesterday, in response to social media activism from the Disability Community, Jumaane Williams, a Democratic candidate running for Governor, responded on Twitter, “We stand with NYAIL, CDRNYS and disability advocates: the Governor must reinstate the Office of the Advocate by signing Assemblymember Phil Steck’s A3130 and Senator James Skoufis’ S1836. For an accessible NY, we need a state agency that centers Disabled New Yorkers.”
Disability advocates are praising Williams for listening and – more importantly – responding to New Yorkers with Disabilities who are currently unrepresented in state government. “It’s refreshing to get a positive response,” said Zach Garafalo, Manager of Government Affairs at the Center for Disability Rights. “Actually getting any response is a big change from what we’ve been experiencing. Right now, Governor Hochul’s staff haven’t indicated what she intends to do with this bill – one way or the other.”
Garafalo continued, “We have repeatedly challenged Governor Hochul to meet with leaders of disability-led organizations working on this issue before deciding not to sign the bill. With just days left, we haven’t heard anything.” Yesterday, advocates called the Governor’s office to express their support for the bill, but were transferred to voice mail. Some shifted their focus to Twitter. “People can at least see that we are asking her not to veto this bill like Governor Cuomo did. Frankly, I hate to say this, but refusing to engage us feels a lot like her predecessor’s administration. She was supposed to be different,” said Garafalo.
Governor Hochul understands the importance of representation in state government. CDR commends her for proposing to increase funding for the Office of New Americans by $1.6 million in her Executive Budget. This would bring the total funding for that Office to $8 million. “As a Deaf BIPOC immigrant, I appreciate her robustly funding that office,” said Ayisha Salifu, Deaf Systems Advocate at the Regional Center for Independent Living based in Rochester, NY. “However, I am very concerned that the accessibility needs of Deaf New Yorkers continue to be unaddressed. Without a state office to ensure that my needs as a Deaf woman are met, I have no place to contact when state agencies get it wrong. An Office of the Advocate for People with Disabilities would be able to work with the Office for New Americans to ensure that Disabled immigrants – like me – are adequately supported and represented.” Garafalo points out that without an Office in state government charged with ensuring compliance with the ADA, Deaf New Yorkers have been forced to sue the state to get their access needs met.
Advocates have been told that Governor Hochul included funding for three FTEs to fund a Chief Disability Officer (CDO) and two staff in her Executive Budget, but the Governor’s budget documents were unclear about the purpose of the CDO and emphasized employment instead of the functions of the OAPWD. “Without a clearly articulated plan or communication with advocates, our entire community is hanging in limbo and watching the clock run out,” said Garafalo. “It’s time for Governor Hochul to sign the bill.”