"The Assembly's annual observance of Disabilities Awareness Day not only recognizes the accomplishments and contributions of people with disabilities and New York's disability advocates, but it also zeros in on some of the challenges they face. I'm pleased to say that the legislation we approved today includes anti-discrimination measures for the protection of people with disabilities that will ensure their most basic rights in the areas of housing, emergency preparedness, transportation and the election process," said Silver (D-Manhattan).
"This event is significant to the state Assembly because not only do we bring together so many advocates and people with disabilities to concentrate on the priorities of New York's disability community, but while this distinguished group is in Albany, we advance a comprehensive legislative agenda that truly reflects their needs and concerns that have been brought to our attention," said Cusick (D-Staten Island). "And while it is very helpful for us to bring this large group together on this special occasion once a year, it is critical that we continue our mission to seek independence, integration and inclusion of all people with disabilities throughout the entire year."
To better protect individuals with disabilities from discriminatory practices, the Assembly approved a measure that would make the state's Human Rights Law consistent with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and clarify the obligations of state and local governments to ensure that the services, activities and programs they administer do not prevent the participation of people with disabilities (A.71/Paulin).
Among the Assembly's anti-discriminatory initiatives is a bill that would restore the right of state employees to sue the state for damages due to violations of the ADA, the Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA) and the Fair Labor Standards Act (A.3689 /Lifton). The bill also would preserve their rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
The Disabilities Awareness Day legislative package also included bills that would:
require that the services of sign language interpreters be made available, upon request, at public hearings and meetings and also establish provisions for assistive listening systems to be required in rooms used for public hearings that accommodate over 100 people after January 1, 2014 (A.1932/Wright);
bring New York State into compliance with Federal law by amending the Human Rights Law to define the term "service animal," which would include, but would not be limited to, any guide, hearing or service dog to have the same definition as they do in the Civil Rights Law. The bill also would clarify that a person engaged in training a dog to aid a person with a disability has the same rights and privileges as outlined in the Civil Rights Law as possessed by a person with a disability (A.6816/Benedetto);
enable blind and visually impaired registered voters to request Braille or large-print absentee ballots to be sent to their homes. These ballots also would be made available, upon request, at polling places for school board elections until December 31, 2012 when optical scanning machines will be in operation for such elections (A.5337-A/Cusick);
mandate every high-rise building owner establish and maintain an emergency evacuation plan for disabled occupants and visitors. It also would require the plan be updated and readily available to emergency personnel (A.6658/Cusick); and
require counties to maintain a confidential registry of people with disabilities who may require evacuation assistance and shelter during a disaster and allow people to choose whether they want their name included in the registry (A.7257/Cusick).
"Disabilities Awareness Day provides all legislators in the state Capitol with the opportunity to educate themselves on the issues that matter to people with disabilities in New York. As Chair of the Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Committee, I commend those who are self-advocates, family members who tirelessly support their loved ones and the legislative sponsors for supporting this important day," said Ortiz (D-Brooklyn).
"It is a great privilege to take part in my first Legislative Disabilities Awareness Day as Ranking Minority Member on the Assembly Mental Health Committee," said Assemblyman Steve Katz (R, I-Yorktown). "The entire program today, in conjunction with our passage of key disability advocate legislation, will raise awareness for those who overcome their disabilities to excel in their daily lives and in their communities."
The discrimination experienced by people with disabilities in matters involving housing and transportation also was addressed with measures that would:
permit tenants with limited mobility because of their physical disability to be granted a preference for occupying a vacant housing unit on a lower floor in the same project operated by the New York City Housing Authority (A.3420-A/Titus);
establish the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Riders' Council for People with Disabilities to examine all aspects of the MTA in order to make recommendations on how to better respond to the mass transit needs of individuals with disabilities (A.745/Kellner);
create a tax credit for transportation companies for purchasing new vehicles that are accessible to persons with disabilities (A.966-B/Kellner); and
establishes the minimum width for handicapped accessible parking spaces and access aisles to each be eight feet to ensure adequate space for people with disabilities to enter and exit their vehicles, especially for those equipped with wheelchair ramps that open on the side of a vehicle (A.3363/Lavine).
Legislation to crack down on the discriminatory practices that deny people with disabilities affordable and safe housing is also expected to be acted on by the Assembly later in the session. The bill would make discrimination by landlords based on a tenant's source of income illegal under the New York State Human Rights Law (A.1121-B/Bing).