101st Assembly District
Kevin Cahill

Room 557 LOB, Albany, NY 12248 • (518) 455-4436
Governor Clinton Building, One Albany Ave., Suite G-4
Kingston, NY 12401 • (845) 338-9610

For Immediate Release
Date: October 1, 2001
Contact: Kathy Keyser
(845) 338-9610

Assemblymember Cahill's Able Column - Task Force Actions Regarding Possible Changes in the NYS Building Code - October 2001

Along with disability advocates across the state, I recently submitted testimony at the New York State Building Code Council Proposed Rule Making Hearing on August 20, 2001 regarding revisions to the states Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code. As I am sure many of you are aware, the number of accessible apartments required under law is at risk of being dramatically decreased once these provisions go into effect.

For those who are new to this issue, New York State currently requires all newly-constructed apartments in buildings with elevators and all ground floor units to have accessible routes and spaces, particularly at doorways and in bathrooms. With the imminent adoption of the International Building Code (IBC), the Building Code Council has decided to reduce the construction of accessible apartments by a staggering 98-percent. If enacted, the number of apartments constructed to accommodate wheelchair users and other people with disabilities will be dramatically decreased, as only two percent of dwelling units will be mandated to provide the degree of access that people with disabilities need and have come to expect over the last 17 years.

Ensuring that New York State maintains its current requirements for accessible apartments has been one of my top priorities since groups like the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association brought this matter to my attention earlier this year. Under existing regulations, people with disabilities enjoy a measure of independent living. Our goal, however, is to provide even more housing. What we are witnessing instead, under the pretense of bringing New York into the 21st Century with more commonly used standards, is an overtly discriminatory, devolving motion that will inevitably force many with disabilities to return to institutional living or, at the very least, greatly restrict the right to live independently.

I would like to thank and congratulate all of you who participated in the Proposed Rule Making Hearing, either by presenting testimony at one of the eight public hearing sites, or by submitting written comments. I understand New York's disability community was well represented at the hearing, providing more than enough evidence to prove that people with disabilities cannot, and will not, tolerate a decision by the Building Code Council to reduce accessibility standards in January, 2002.

It is my hope that the significant amount of testimony that the Department of State now has will convince the Building Code Council to address this flagrant disservice to New Yorkers with disabilities. However, the agency's actions while planning hearings suggest that the fight might not yet be over. Shortly before the most recent hearing was scheduled to occur, the Department of State changed the location of its video conference site at the State University at Plattsburgh from Hawkins Hall to Sibley Hall. While Hawkins Hall is accessible to people with disabilities, Sibley Hall lacks such accommodations and was chosen primarily because it offered better audio/visual equipment. This decision was reversed following a significant public outcry, but it was much too late for many interested people with disabilities to make the necessary arrangements to attend.

That said, I have repeatedly conveyed my displeasure to Secretary of State Randy Daniels concerning the Building Code issue, most recently calling on him to encourage the Building Code Council at its October 10th meeting to revisit its decision to severely limit accessible housing, also reminding him of legislation (A.8931/S.5483) the Assembly passed to maintain New York's current requirements for accessible apartments. The idea is painstakingly clear - should the Senate pass and the Governor sign this legislation, the regulatory process for the adoption of the IBC would not be affected. Secretary Daniels' support for our legislative solution would go a long way toward assuring it would become law.

At this time, I urge all New Yorkers with disabilities, along with families and friends, to continue to communicate the importance of this matter to their Senate representatives, Secretary Daniels and members of the Building Code Council. Contact Secretary of State Randy Daniels at 518-486-9888 or at 41 State Street, Albany, New York, 12231-0001 to demand that the Council recognize its responsibility to our disabled population. To insist that the Senate take this issue out of the Department of State's hands by passing the above legislation to protect our existing accessibility, call 518-455-3216 to receive contact information on your Senate representative.

Time and again, we have proven that our input does have an impact upon official actions. We can win this fight. What is more, the very act of the struggle will keep people aware of the important issues which promote community integration. No matter how one looks at it, it is the right thing to do.

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.