As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to show progress of slowing down, lawmakers in Albany, New York continue to fight for the rights of those most affected by the outbreak. The New York State Assembly recently commemorated Legislative Disabilities Awareness Day by passing a package of legislature and bills with the goal of improving the lives of disabled New York state residents at the center.
“The Assembly is committed to promoting access and inclusion so that everyone in our communities has opportunities to thrive,” said New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie of the legislation. “Every year on Legislative Disabilities Awareness Day we recognize the unique challenges faced by individuals with disabilities and search for meaningful ways to improve their lives. Today’s legislative package includes bills that ensure all New Yorkers have access to critical services and supports they need to be successful.”
Included in the legislative package was a measure establishing the Office of Advocate for People with Disabilities, a political office that would serve on behalf of New York state citizens with disabilities to ensure their rights are not infringed upon and they can exercise all of these same rights fully.
An additional measure was also passed to establish the Office of the Independent Intellectual and Developmental Disability Ombudsman Program, to assist those with developmental or intellectual disabilities to ensure their coverage and access to services and managed care organizations necessary to best meet their needs.
“Today in Albany, we will be commemorating Legislative Disabilities Awareness Day,” Assembly Minority Leader William Barclay said of the legislative package. “Under normal circumstances, we would be gathered together while raising awareness and celebrating the accomplishments of those within the disability community. Unfortunately, due continued COVID precautions, this is not possible. However, later today the Assembly will pass a package of bills that will help to alleviate some of the very unique challenges facing the disability community and further protect this vulnerable population during a pandemic. The Assembly Minority Conference will continue to be steadfast in its support for the disability community, their advocates and caregivers. I have hope that we will be back together in person for this event in 2022.”
One bill in the legislation package addressed the Developmental Disability Advisory Council directly, mandating the council be comprised of eight members to be appointed by the speaker of the Assembly, eight members appointed by the temporary president of the Senate, one member appointed by the minority leader of the Assembly, one member appointed by the minority leader of the Senate, and fifteen members appointed by the governor of New York state.
“On Legislative Disabilities Awareness Day we stand with New Yorkers with disabilities and recognize their accomplishments and the unique issues they face,” stated Chair of the Committee on People with Disabilities and New York State Assembly Member Tom Abinanti of the legislature. “Today’s legislation will help ensure that people with disabilities have access to resources they rely on so that they can lead full and heathy lives.”
The reestablishment of care demonstration programs under the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) was also passed, ensuring that community-based services continue to be offered to disabled individuals through March 31, 2024.
Also included in the package was a bill aimed at waiving New York state’s sovereign immunity regarding the application of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 to the protection of state employees as the apply.
“Both my late daughter Melanie and my son Oliver have disabilities, so this day holds a special place in my heart,” New York State Assembly Member and ranking minority member of the Committee on People with Disabilities Missy Miller commented. “While the days for our loved ones with disabilities are not always easy, they continue to be a beacon of light for us. They show us truly how tough they are— regardless of what life throws at them. They are resilient, patient and teach us every day how to live the best life. It’s a privilege to be an outspoken voice for our loved ones with disabilities in the Assembly.”
Other bills included in the legislation package include one aiming to establish a small business tax credit for the employment of disabled peoples, legislation requiring interpreters or assistive listening devices for the deaf and hearing-impaired at public meetings, and a measure aimed at creating a tax credit for new or retrofitted residences that are universally designed to be accessible and adaptable for the disabled, senior citizens, and those with limited mobility.