Assemblymember 101st Assembly District
For Immediate Release
Date: July 1, 2001
Contact: Kathy Keyser
Assemblymember Cahill's Able Column - Recommended Changes to NYS Building Code will Harm Disabilities Community - July 2001
As many of you know by now, New York State is planning to adopt a new building code to replace the existing one which we have been following since 1984. The new building code, known as the International Building Code, or IBC, is slated by the Governor's New York State Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Codes Council to take effect in January 2002.
While many of the changes included in the IBC will be improvements to New York State's current building code, the handicapped accessibility guidelines that contractors will be required to follow when building multi-unit apartment dwellings will be significantly decreased. In other words, people with disabilities are going to have an even tougher time than they do now locating accessible apartments.
Currently, all newly-constructed apartments in buildings with elevators and all ground floor apartments are required to have accessible routes and spaces, particularly at doorways and in bathrooms to accommodate wheelchair users and other people with disabilities. When the IBC takes effect in January, only two percent of these units will be required to maintain the degree of accessibility that New Yorkers with disabilities need, deserve and have counted on for the last 17 years.
Since this matter was brought to my attention, I have been working with disability advocates to encourage the Building Codes Council members not to reduce the accessibility standards by 98 percent.
But at a meeting on May 30th, the Codes Council decided not to revisit its decision because it would disrupt the process the Department of State is undertaking to meet the January, 2002 adoption of the IBC. Isn't it more important to make people a priority rather than a process?
The fact that the Building Codes Council is even considering this dramatic of a reduction is a slap in the face to all disabled and aging New Yorkers. I'm shocked at the Codes Council's decision in light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court Olmstead vs. L.C. ruling which reaffirmed that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires states to serve people with disabilities in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs.
As we move to enforce this important provision of the ADA, more accessible housing is clearly needed - not less. I truly believe that by integrating people with disabilities into the community, we can offer increased opportunities for employment, enhanced social lives and a more active role in our communities.
In the meantime, the Assembly has been making several efforts to ensure that New York State complies with the Olmstead decision. Many disability advocates participated in the March 27th public hearing on the status of New York's compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act requirement that people with disabilities be served in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs. On May 16th, the Assembly passed its disability package, which is geared towards improving access for people with disabilities.
And the Task Force recently delivered a letter to Governor Pataki with the signatures of several Assemblymembers - including that of Speaker Sheldon Silver - asking him to encourage the Building Codes Council to increase the amount of accessible housing from the two percent that is currently proposed. A March 30th letter asked the same from the Department of State.
And that's why on June 20th the Assembly passed my bill (A.8931) which will maintain New York State's current requirements for accessible apartments which enable people with disabilities to live independently. Be assured that I will continue the fight for an increased percentage of accessible housing, both through legislation and continued encouragement to the Governor and his Codes Council. I urge you to do the same. Contact Governor Pataki and lend your voice to the dozens of others who are concerned about the impact reduced housing will have on New Yorkers with disabilities.
Assemblymember Kevin A. Cahill is the Chair of the New York State Assembly Task Force on People with Disabilities. Anyone with questions, comments or suggestions can reach the Task Force office at 518-455-4592.