I got into the race for Borough President to make Manhattan a better place to live for all New Yorkers, and to make the things that make New York City great accessible to all of us. That means improving our transit infrastructure, our housing stock, our green space, and our streets. It means making the City’s governance better by improving community boards and community education councils.
But in order to live up to that promise, we must make New York accessible to all New Yorkers. That means we must look at every single decision through a lens that is inclusive of the 900,000 New Yorkers with disabilities. The State and City fail time and again on accessibility. The subway system, fundamental to the greatness of the City, is inaccessible and unsafe for many people with disabilities. Our sidewalks are often blocked by snow or trash bags, which make them difficult to traverse. Public meetings like community board meetings are often inaccessible to the d/Deaf community. And people with disabilities are insufficiently represented in the rooms where decisions are getting made.
When I am Borough President, I will be committed to accessibility in all of my decision-making, I will make my office open and accessible, and I will hire people with disabilities. The Borough President cannot fix all issues: the Federal government needs to abolish the subminimum wage for workers with disabilities and ensure health care is provided to all. But the Borough President can make a real impact on people’s lives, and I want to share how I’m planning to do that. If I am missing an issue that you think the Borough President can have an impact on, no matter how specific, I want to know and I want to work in partnership with you to fix it.
When any land use decision comes to my office, I will consider the ways in which the changes affect accessibility in the neighborhood and in the City in general. Are we increasing access to transit? When considering new structures, are we viewing the legal requirements set out by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as the goal or do we recognize them as the bare minimum, while actively engaging the community on accessibility? I want a City that creates green space and parks, public libraries and playgrounds, and municipal buildings that are built for everybody, and I will use the rezoning process to ensure we build that City whenever possible.
Every New Yorker has had the following experiences. First, after a snowstorm, certain patches of sidewalks and crosswalks are uncleared, with some property owners not clearing their sidewalks and snow plows shoving snow from the streets towards crosswalks. Small patches of snow are trampled down, but the sidewalks remain treacherous. Second, trash bags from a restaurant or apartment have filled the sidewalk to your left and to your right, a grate is open, and you might fall down it dodging the trashbags.
For some people with disabilities, these aren’t just minor hazards. They result in an inability to move throughout the City. Some of us drive, others take the subways and buses, but we all use the sidewalks regardless of ability. We must use the 311 call center to proactively engage with disabled communities and allow them to request sidewalk and other services ahead of time. And there must be an accessible line for service requests for people with disabilities.
Furthermore, I will do everything I can to ensure that the sidewalks are accessible. I will nominate members of the Solid Waste Advisory Board who view trash collection through an accessibility lens, so that our streets are free from waste that blocks the sidewalks. I will work with the City and with our Community Boards to ensure snow removal keeps crosswalks and curb cuts clear so that the sidewalks remain accessible no matter the weather conditions.
Our sidewalks also must be improved more generally, and I will make sure to be a voice for investment in sidewalk infrastructure so that sidewalks are paved for access. Finally, in order to make Vision Zero a reality, we must also make street crossings safer, so that the d/Deaf and Blind communities can safely cross without fear of being struck by speeding vehicles.
The MTA constantly fails to meet the floor set by the Americans with Disabilities Act. As of 2020, only about 25 percent of stations were accessible. The MTA says it hopes to have all stations be accessible by 2034, but this goal is unacceptable. New Yorkers should not have to wait 13 years to be able to use all subway stations. We need to set a more ambitious goal to complete this project in 5 years.
When I am Borough President, I will fight like hell to make sure the MTA delivers for everybody in our community and Access-A-Ride’s pilot program becomes a full time reality. Elevators and escalators are constantly out of order and repaired incredibly slowly at subway stations. The steps and platforms are often excessively narrow and difficult to traverse. We must invest the capital necessary to make our subway accessible and to get costs down to make it a reality. I’ll hold hearings and fight to change the inattention given to accessible transit.
I also fully support Senator Leroy Comrie’s S7371 bill, expanding the on-demand pilot program for Access-a-Ride (AAR) into a full-time program throughout the City. Let’s fully fund AAR and expand bus lanes throughout New York, which would provide AAR with the right to use the expanded bus lanes to improve the speed through which they can move throughout the City.
Resiliency and Evacuation
Much of my professional experience is in disaster relief, as I oversaw the state’s relief efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. I also oversaw the Storm Recovery Department, which did all the work of rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy. We need to make sure that in the event of another natural disaster, there is a plan that meets the needs of disabled New Yorkers both in the event of a power outage and an evacuation.
Public meetings, like those held by Community Boards, have historically been insufficiently accessible. As Borough President, I will do everything I can to change that. That means continuing to make all meetings accessible virtually even after the pandemic is over, providing ASL interpretation and captioning at meetings, making sure microphones are used at all times, and ensuring that transcriptions are available after every meeting. My office will also ensure that people can submit questions in advance, for those who are unable to attend in real time.
As Borough President, I will make appointments to the Panel for Education Policy, Community Education Councils, Community Boards, and to the Solid Waste Advisory Board. I will make all of those appointments with disability rights and accessibility in mind.
For Community Education Councils and the Panel for Education Policy appointments, I will focus on candidates who have lived experience with disability. I will select candidates who focus New York City schools on the needs of those with disabilities and who fight to get proper funding and staffing for disabled students. I will also appoint candidates who do not believe that police are the answer to behavioral issues and will seek out those who support policies which help students develop regardless of any mental health issues or traumas the students are facing. We need our schools to be cognizant of how students with disabilities, especially those students of color, are often marginalized in the classroom. I will fight to make our classrooms free of racism and ableism.
I will seek out Community Board members who consider accessibility, transit access, and the ways in which those issues intersect when making land use recommendations. I will seek to appoint people with disabilities to Community Boards so that the disability community is seen and heard in major decisions in their communities.
Hires and Employment
As in my campaign, I am committed to hiring people with disabilities in the Borough President’s office in high level roles. I will also make all accommodations possible — not just the bare minimum that workers with disabilities often receive — to facilitate the best working environment possible, including flexible work hours and telecommuting. A government for everybody must reflect everybody, and without voices from people with disabilities in decision-making, we are not making the best decisions for all.