Speaker Carl Heastie and Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb today announced the Assembly passed a package of bills aimed at improving the lives of New Yorkers with disabilities to commemorate the annual Legislative Disabilities Awareness Day.
"The Assembly is committed to ensuring that all New Yorkers have the resources they need to thrive," said Speaker Heastie. "Every year we join New Yorkers with disabilities and advocates to recognize the unique challenges they face, celebrate their achievements and important contributions to our communities, and search for meaningful ways to improve their lives."
"Every year I am honored to be part of such a special day in Albany, as we celebrate the accomplishments of the disability community, their families and advocates. The smiles and enthusiasm shared among those here today is certainly contagious," said Assembly Minority Leader Kolb. "The Assembly Minority Conference has an unwavering commitment to support and stand up for New York's most vulnerable population. We will continue to lead the fight to provide a better quality of life for individuals with disabilities and their caregivers."
"New Yorkers with disabilities deserve to know that their representatives throughout the state are advocating for their rights," said Assemblymember Phillip Steck, chair of the Task Force on People with Disabilities. "The comprehensive legislative package we passed today, including reestablishing the Office of Advocate for People with Disabilities, will help ensure that people with disabilities lead healthy and full lives."
"Legislative Disabilities Awareness Day gives us an opportunity to appreciate the issues that New Yorkers with disabilities face, and seek new ways to empower them to fully engage in their communities," said Assemblymember Aileen Gunther, chair of the Committee on Mental Health. "On a day when we stand together, it is important to recognize the people with disabilities, advocates, care providers and loved ones who work hard every day to improve the lives of those around them."
"As the mother of children with disabilities, I understand firsthand the unique challenges those with developmental disabilities, their caregivers and families face on a day-to-day basis. It is through my experience of caring for my children and watching with immense pride their determination to succeed that I am inspired to fight to end the inequalities that still plague our state," said Assemblymember Melissa Miller, ranking minority member of the Committee on Mental Health. "As legislators, we must do a better job of addressing the enduring issues facing those within the disability community, including providing higher levels of assistance and protections and better accessibility for those who need it most."
Today's legislative package includes a critical measure to reestablish the Office of the Advocate for People with Disabilities (A.4737, Steck). The office would function as an advocate on behalf of individuals with disabilities to assure that they are afforded the opportunity to exercise all of the rights and responsibilities accorded to all citizens of the state of New York, including the opportunity to live an independent life in their local community.
The package also includes a measure that would waive the state's sovereign immunity with regard to application of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 as they apply to the protection of state employees (A.1092, Lifton).
Additionally, a measure was passed to increase the allowable maximum account balance in the New York Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Program to an amount equal to the federally authorized level for the 529 College Savings Program (A.7473, Gunther).
Another bill passed today would ensure that people with disabilities have access to higher education by reauthorizing the current law that requires publishers or manufacturers of printed instructional materials for college students to provide electronic formats of printed instructional material to be available for purchase for students with disabilities (A.7251, Cusick).
Being an active participant in our government is important to many New Yorkers, but some are not able to because there is not adequate access. Today, the Assembly passed a measure that would require public officers and bodies to provide interpreters and assistive listening devices for deaf or hard of hearing individuals at public hearings and meetings (A.3385, Dickens). A second measure would require the boards of elections to post a copy of a sample ballot, including electronically for use with a computer screen-reading program, on its website prior to each election as soon as the relevant information becomes available, so that every New Yorker has access to the polls (A.163, Rosenthal).
As extreme weather conditions and natural disasters continue to become more common, it is imperative that we can ensure the safety of our communities. A measure included in today's package would require counties with local emergency management plans to maintain a confidential registry of people of all ages with disabilities who may require evacuation assistance and shelter during a disaster. People would be provided with the option to be included in the registry (A.3923, Weprin).
In the event that an individual applying for public assistance receives a diagnosis from a practitioner provided by the local social services district regarding possible work limitations that is inconsistent from the applicant's treating health care practitioner, a bill passed by the Assembly today would require that the social services practitioner provide explicit written determination and evidence to support his or her diagnosis (A.4236, Hevesi).
Many New Yorkers depend on specialized services and medical equipment to preserve their quality of life and independence. Another bill passed today would require the commissioner of health to maintain specific reimbursement and billing procedures within Medicaid for complex rehabilitation technology products and services. This would ensure that payments for such products and services permit adequate access to complex needs patients and take into account the significant resources, infrastructure, and staff needed to meet their needs (A.7492, Steck).
The remaining two bills in today's legislative package would: