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Lightbulb Ensuring accessible housing with the human rights commissionís ted finkelstein

BY JESSICA NEWMAN | JUL 06, 2017 |2 Ted Finkelstein Ted Finkelstein has
spent years ensuring that housing providers, small businesses and
employers make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.
Finkelstein is retiring as the director of the equal access program at the
New York City Human Rights Commission, and in honor of Sundayís Disability
Pride Parade, we asked him about some of the progress heís made after 37
years on the commission, and some of the challenges that still exist for
people with disabilities. The interview has been edited for clarity and
brevity. C&S: Why did you choose to help those with disabilities? TF: When
I came to the New York City Human Rights Commission 37 years ago, I was
actually not a disability rights act advocate. We did a lot of different
work on building communities and primarily I did a lot of work in housing
to protect tenantsí rights and to make sure people had the right to
decent, affordable, safe housing. As politics change and as the agency
changes and picks different priorities, I found that there was one group
in New York City that was primarily underserved in many areas, but in
particular in the rights to equal access to housing, and that was people
with disabilities. Thatís the type of work I started doing really about 20
years ago. C&S: Whatís the most rewarding or difficult thing youíve
accomplished in your career? TF: The most rewarding thing is to make New
York City a more accessible city for people with disabilities; to have
people get in and out of their building just as easy as people without
disabilities. The simple ability to get in and out of their building, to
get in and out of their bedroom, their bathroom Ė itís just a
life-changing event for people. The most challenging thing is, here it is
almost 27 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act, and years after
realizing how people with disabilities are discriminated against, we still
see that in a city like New York, but also all across America. People just
donít have equal access to housing and equal access to accessible housing,
which is the primary thing. C&S: Since youíve started working with people
with disabilities, whatís changed and what remains the same? TF: Whatís
gotten better is essentially the awareness that people with disabilities
have the right to accessible housing, and they have a right to get into
any public accommodation, whether itís a doctorís office, a restaurant, a
movie theater. I think there is an awareness on behalf of our landlords
and business owners. The problem is people donít want to spend money. I
donít think people actively donít want to serve people with disabilities,
but there is still a lack of awareness though. The awareness is growing,
but itís something that we have to be very vigilant on, from at least the
cityís perspective, to try to work with business owners to make them more
understanding of what their responsibilities are to provide equal
access. C&S: What are some challenges that come with advocating for those
with disabilities in New York City? TF: Well clearly, I think the No. 1
issue with people with disabilities is to have not only affordable
housing, but accessible affordable housing. So even in cases where people
find housing that they may be able to afford, itís simply not
accessible. The housing stock in New York City is not particularly
accessible. That, I think, is the No. 1 challenge, and of course there are
many other challenges. C&S: Do you have any plans for your
retirement? TF: I will always be a fighter for social justice, whether
itís the disabled community, for the trans rights community, for human
rights in general for New York City. So, Iím not stepping back from that.
Iím just stepping back from waking up every morning and going to work
every day. But Iíll continue to fight.
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