Building a City that is Accessible to Everyone

If our city is going to rebuild as quickly and as equitably as it needs to following this crisis, it must be above all inclusive. That means finally making the investments that our city has long delayed to support New Yorkers with disabilities and make the social and economic life of the city fully accessible to everyone. 

These investments are absolutely critical and long-overdue. One just needs to look outside and imagine themselves in a wheelchair to recognize that nothing in our city is 100% accessible—and this just represents one type of disability.

For decades, leaders have hidden behind excuses—the city’s too old, improvements are too costly—and all they achieve is allowing infrastructure to deteriorate further and become even more expensive to maintain in the long run. Our current mayor has taken the position of fighting disability advocates and activists instead of working with them to find solutions that uplift New Yorkers who have for so long been neglected.

Shaun Donovan has long championed equity and accessibility in all their forms, and he’s dedicated to applying his decades of government and community development experience to making our city truly work for its disabled residents. The Donovan administration will ensure that disabled New Yorkers are safely and securely housed, have a range of efficient transportation options, and can participate fully in our city’s economy.

We are committing to the following policies and programs: 

Making affordable housing more accessible for disabled New Yorkers

There is a demonstrable and disproportionate need for affordable housing in New York City’s disabled community. According to data from the Center for Independence of the Disabled NY (CIDNY), 52.4% of disabled New Yorkers are rent burdened, as compared with 42.1% of non-disabled residents. An October 2019 report on trends in employment for New Yorkers with disabilities from the Office of the Comptroller also found that “34% of working-age people with disabilities live in poverty in New York City, a higher share than in the nation (26%) and New York State (30%), and more than twice the share for those without disabilities in New York City (14%).” 

Having affordable and accessible housing is critically important to the disabled community in New York City, but pathways to obtaining it are severely limited. Waitlists, excessive delays in accommodations, source of income discrimination, and the existing transfer system are all persistent barriers disabled New Yorkers face when searching for stable living accommodations. 

Disabled people are often most negatively affected by the bureaucratic logjam in the City’s affordable housing system, especially when it comes to wait-times for voucher approval, building modifications for accessibility, and transfers. To address these glaring problems, the Donovan administration will advocate for universal vouchers at the federal level, expand the number of affordable units specifically set aside for disabled New Yorkers, place an emphasis at the city level on rental assistance for lower-income households, a disproportionate percentage of whom have disabilities, and support housing navigators, who can help housing voucher holders secure homes. The Donovan administration will also invest in proactive and efficient improvements to building accessibility so disabled people can stay in their homes and will work to speed up the transfer process, now plagued by excessive delays, by hiring more personnel to screen applications.

To decrease barriers to achieving stable, affordable housing in the city, to provide greater choice and access, and to dramatically reduce wait times for applicants and transfers, the Donovan administration will also work to increase the overall supply of affordable housing in the city by: 1) establishing an independent commission of experts to assess the city’s housing needs, determine where current zoning capacity falls short, and recommend targeted zoning actions to fill in those gaps; 2) reforming existing zoning codes to allow for transit-oriented, increased density building with less onerous parking requirements for developers; and 3) with that increased inventory, creating more housing specifically for New Yorkers with disabilities to support their independence and empowerment. By removing unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles to building transit-oriented developments, naturally increasing housing stock overall, and deliberately carving out units for disabled residents and making self-sufficiency more readily attainable, the Donovan administration will dramatically improve the city’s affordability and repair its accessibility crisis.The Donovan administration will also work to build on the success of the NYC Housing Connect 2.0 website to expand access to housing assistance and give disabled applicants the option of touring Section 8 and other subsidized units virtually.

Beyond this, it is critical to ensure that NYCHA housing is not only easy to obtain, but also designed in a way that accommodates New Yorkers with disabilities once they’ve moved in. 

First and foremost, we must ensure that residents are able to enter and exit their homes safely. Many rental units are in buildings that do not have an elevator, and many buildings with elevators are not fully accessible. We must also make the necessary investments within units to ensure that potential hazards, including kitchen items placed in high cupboards and missing grab bars in bathrooms, do not lead to serious falls and worse. This will be part of the Donovan administration’s effort to incorporate universal design principles that go beyond the Americans with Disabilities Act in affordable housing construction.

Ending source of income discrimination and enforcing Fair Housing Act standards

As President Obama’s Housing Secretary, Shaun led the development of a regulation that would finally give teeth to the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing provision of the 1968 Fair Housing Act. This rule provided program participants (states, counties, municipalities and public housing agencies) with more effective means to affirmatively further the purposes and policies of the Fair Housing Act, Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which provide essential legal protections that benefit, among other people, disabled New Yorkers.

However, source of income discrimination––landlords refusing to rent to applicants who pay with vouchers––continues to be used to discriminate against New Yorkers, including those with disabilities New. Prevention is currently difficult to enforce and enforcement, when it occurs, often takes far too long. The City’s Commission on Human Rights is now tasked with enforcing civil penalties for source of income discrimination, and, since 2014 has, according to its internal data, “obtained over $780,000 in damages and penalties for complainants who have faced source of income discrimination.” 

In FY 2019, the Commission hired new personnel to pursue over 240 source of income discrimination claims. To expedite the processing of source of income discrimination complaints, the Donovan administration will train and hire more personnel to staff the Commission on Human Rights to ensure speedy investigation of reported violations and enforcement of penalties, and pursue the maximum fines available when discrimination is definitively proven to have taken place. The Donovan administration will also expand the existing partnership between the Commission on Human Rights and the Mayor’s Office for Data Analytics (MODA) to further expedite oversight and enforcement. 

After a high-profile settlement in 2020, NYCHA also has committed to amending its protocols for delivering urgent accommodations to disabled program participants including, according to a July 2020 press release from Legal Services NYC: “to provide more information to mobility-impaired tenants about their rights to transfer to buildings and apartments that accommodate their mobility impairments, to regularly update tenants who have been approved for transfers but whose transfers have not been effectuated, and to reform the dead-end waitlist system that puts tenants with different accommodation needs on the same waitlist for fully-accessible apartments.” To ensure these reforms are being implemented with the deliberate speed and efficacy the agency has pledged, the Donovan administration will stage an independent audit of NYCHA’s updated policies and conduct further oversight to ensure fast delivery of accommodations to disabled New Yorkers enrolled in and applying to the program

Read more about our plans to expand rental assistance for low-income families, advocate for universal housing vouchers at the federal level, invest an historic $2 billion per year in repairs across NYCHA’s portfolio and another $4 billion per year in capital funding for affordable housing production and preservation, and for making NYCHA more accessible in our Housing Platform.

Building the infrastructure for fast, convenient, and safe transportation

The Fourth Regional Plan, a roadmap for modernizing the New York Metropolitan Area’s infrastructure, published by the Regional Plan Association in 2019, identifies one critical accessibility failure in the City’s transit system: “Only 82 out of 472 stations are accessible (or partially accessible) to those with physical disabilities…The MTA currently has a waiver from the Americans with Disabilities Act allows it to get by with making only 100 key stations accessible.” The Donovan administration will conduct a review of the stations that already qualify as accessible or partially accessible to ensure they are meeting reasonable criteria for convenience, will seek to make every single station fully accessible, and will recruit an engineering corps as part of its Jobs Plan to retrofit those stations for easy, stair-free access in the next five years

Donovan’s plan for 15-minute neighborhoods is also a fundamental part of making the City more equitable for disabled residents. Having cohesive, vibrant neighborhoods, where a great public school, fresh groceries, access to rapid transportation, and a park are all easily accessible will help build the kind of communities in which people with disabilities can flourish. A vital part of this effort is ensuring that it is easy for New Yorkers to move around freely through their communities, meaning that investments will need to be made to improve the quality of sidewalks, streets, lighting, and outdoor covered spaces.

Additionally, Access-a-Ride provides a vital service to seniors and New Yorkers with disabilities but still leaves sizable gaps in rapid, on-demand transportation. The City launched its “On-Demand E-Hail” pilot program, which provided subsidized Uber- or Lyft-like electronic ride-hailing services to a group of 1,200 Access-a-Ride enrollees. The MTA recently announced changes to the program, including new limitations on the number of rides allotted per month (16) and capping the per-ride subsidy at $15. The program also will expand to 2,400 participants, though the timeline for that expansion is still unclear. The Donovan administration will work to dramatically expand the On-Demand E-Hail program for disabled New Yorkers without limiting the quality of service provided and imposing restrictions on the coverage of fees, and provide clear timelines and transparency for those increases in the program’s scope. Making On-Demand E-Hail a vital city service and giving it necessary funding will substantively improve the social and economic lives of New Yorkers with disabilities.

Read more about our plans to improve on-demand rapid transit, surface-level mobility, pedestrian safety, and the City’s accessibility infrastructure overall in our Transportation Platform.

Ensuring economic opportunity and providing pathways to employment

All New Yorkers deserve fair and equal access to jobs that sustain themselves and their families, and to fully exercise their individual talents. In the Donovan administration, we will place disability front and center in our efforts to bridge gaps in equity and meaningfully expand opportunity for all New Yorkers.

Saying so is not enough: in my administration we will align every investment and every policy action with our equity commitments. To do this, Shaun will name the city’s first Chief Equity Officer, reporting directly to the mayor and responsible for leading the new Equity Office. This team will be tasked with integrating equity principles into all operations, projects, and services of the city, and collaborating with all agencies in the City of New York to ensure that every decision is viewed within the context of its impact on equity gaps. This includes setting specific, measurable targets for equitable inclusion of New Yorkers with disabilities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act and other similar pieces of civil rights legislation represent a remarkable achievement in the struggle for equal rights for people with disabilities. But in spite of that progress, ableism continues to tarnish hiring and employment opportunities across our country and city, denying people with disabilities the independence and empowerment they deserve. 

To support disabled New Yorkers in searching for employment and break down systemic problems of stereotyping and ableism, the Donovan administration will restart and expand NYC: ATWORK’s on-the-ground efforts to connect participants directly with employers through a non-competitive screening process. Before the COVID-19 pandemic shut its doors, NYC: ATWORK had enrolled over 650 active job seekers and secured jobs for over 350 in high growth sectors. The Donovan administration will also grow the 55-a program to guarantee roles in the civil service to people with disabilities and finally meet the now 30-year-old goal of matching people with disabilities to 700 jobs in city agencies. Currently only 383 people with disabilities have received employment in city agencies through 55-a. The 700 figure can be met by mandating that every city agency allocate four positions to people with disabilities

More generally, Shaun has committed to powering an equitable and ambitious economic recovery by launching the largest comprehensive skills-based training program in the country, creating thousands of on-the-job opportunities—including 10,000 apprenticeship placements for New Yorkers and at least one job, apprenticeship, or internship opportunity for every high school student—and investing in local businesses across the city’s hardest hit communities and neighborhoods. Every single one of these efforts will be geared primarily toward those who have historically received the least support from the city, including people with disabilities.

And, as outlined above, transportation and infrastructure investments will be critical to ensuring all New Yorkers can actually get to their places of work. Improvements to the quality and accessibility of our public transit system, investments in neighborhood commercial corridors as part of every 15 minute neighborhood, and the establishment of universal broadband will yield enormous benefits for New Yorkers interested in working across town, down the street, or from home, regardless of their level of ability.

Read more about our plans to expand access to employment by launching an NYC Jobs Corps and appointing a Chief Equity Officer to ensure progressive achievement and equity-minded decision-making in all City agencies in our Economic Development Platform

Providing effective and equitable special education opportunities

Students with disabilities must be front-and-center in all of our broader reform efforts, not segregated off to the side; and we must provide more high-quality and inclusive programs to meet their needs, especially as these students have faced increased obstacles to appropriate services and programs during the pandemic. We must address racial disparities in special education screening, which both over-identify Black and Latinx students for certain disability classifications and under-identify Black and Latinx students for other classifications, all without effectively addressing their needs or helping them achieve academically before these identifications. This starts with more effective reporting on referrals, identification, and program recommendations broken down by race, ethnicity, and gender, with thresholds that trigger disproportionality reviews. Additionally, current screening tests should be reviewed for any potential sources of bias, and implicit bias trainings highlighting the impact of inappropriate special education referrals should be required for all staff involved in the identification process.

We must provide New York City’s students with disabilities access to research-based, tested programs that meet their needs in inclusive environments, by learning from and expanding existing programs like ASD Nest and Horizon, targeting new program placement in high-need parts of the city. The city must also replicate effective programs from traditional public, charter, and private school systems and establish more specialized programs within neighborhood schools. This includes engaging and working with families to ensure more students with complex disabilities, including those currently in D75 programs, are served in inclusive settings and neighborhood schools.

Quality special education should begin as early as possible to mitigate the impact of developmental delays and prevent the need for more intensive services later on. Currently, students receiving Early Intervention services from the Department of Health (DOH) face challenges when they shift to DOE special education programs, in part because the DOE does not have enough preschool programs for students with disabilities. While the current administration has made progress in including students with disabilities in 3K and PK programs, this must remain a focus, with improved coordination between these agencies and community-based institutions to make sure these students are supported in the transition to preschool.

Read more about our plans to provide high-quality, accessible special education to all New York City children who need it in our Education Platform.

Making doctors’ offices more accessible

While legal mandates currently set clear protocols for the physical accessibility of doctors’ offices, problems still persist in the delivery of healthcare services in the city. To ensure their services are meeting accessibility needs for their clients, especially in the design of entrances, examination rooms, waiting rooms, hallways, restrooms, and medical equipment, the Donovan administration will recommend that healthcare providers use the health risk assessment, included under Medicare’s Annual Wellness Visit provision, to collect data on the specific needs of their beneficiaries and how their facilities meet or fail to meet them, and gather more complete information profiles when care is administered to paint a broader picture of their beneficiaries’ accessibility needs. Those measures will help providers make substantive changes to their facilities’ architecture when needed and help City agencies enforce accessibility mandates. The Donovan administration will also work to increase healthcare provider training to maximize their awareness of accessibility needs. Read more about our plans to invest in health equity and access in our Health Platform.

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