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Old 04-10-2016, 12:04 AM
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Lightbulb Making New York City services and agencies more accessible to people with disabiliti

By Loreen Loonie, ICS staff member

Last month New York City adopted a number of laws to make city services
more accessible for people with disabilities. One requires that NYC adopt
standards to make its websites accessible.

This is a big deal because city government websites are where New Yorkers
can go to get information, file a complaint or apply for important
services – all from the comfort of their home. Using a city website you
can start the application for a marriage license, order a free lead test
for your home, apply for SNAP Food Stamp benefits, order a copy of your
birth certificate, make a housing complaint, enter a housing lottery, book
an accessible taxi, manage your Access-a-Ride account, get free help to
stop smoking and much, much more. But if you can’t access the city’s
websites, these online services may as well not exist.

Website accommodations for people with disabilities might include:

a.. Making clickable links and areas large so that people who can’t
control a mouse easily can still use them
b.. Coding pages so that they can be navigated using a keyboard alone,
or a single switch access device
c.. Including closed captions and sign language interpretation with videos
d.. Providing descriptions for website images and links that allow blind
users access with text-to-speech software and text-to-Braille hardware,
e.. Visual enhancements that make it easier for people with reduced
vision to navigate
Another law the city passed last month requires that all notices and
advertising materials for public events hosted by city agencies include
information about the accessibility of the event. This is important
because New York City government is housed largely in old, inaccessible
buildings and there’s nothing quite like showing up for an event only to
find that you can’t get in. Having to include accessibility information
will help prevent those scenarios. What is at least as important, if not
more, is that having to actually state in writing in advance details of an
event’s accessibility should have the effect of making the city work
harder to live up to the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as state
and local laws requiring accessibility.

Personally, I think the most important disability access law the city
passed last month is one requiring every city agency to have in place, by
June, a disability service facilitator – someone at each agency whose job
it will be to serve as the agency’s primary contact for people with
disabilities and help coordinate whatever services they need. The
disability service facilitators will also have the job of creating
policies and procedures for each agency to ensure that people with
disabilities can fully access services and have effective ways to
communicate with the agency. Further, they will receive disability
competency training from the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities
and then conduct in-house training for staff at the agency they are
assigned to.

As we’ve written about, the NYC Parks Department and NYC Department of
Transportation both recently hired people whose job it is to look at parks
and transportation, respectively, through the lens of accessibility for
people with disabilities. The potential positive effects of having someone
at every NYC agency assigned to this work cannot be overstated, because
the most effective way to change a culture is from within. At ICS we know
this first-hand through the work that our Women’s Health Program staff
have done with New York City Hospitals. By developing relationships with
doctors and administrators within HHC and private healthcare facilities,
and making them aware of the problems people with physical disabilities
face in trying to gain access to health care, some of those doctors and
administrators have become advocates for accessible care within the city
healthcare system.

It may sound like a tall order but having a disability services
coordinator at every city agency by June is a fantastic goal with real
potential to change the culture of New York City government. It’s a goal
we’ll be following up on and reporting more about right here so that, in
the future, when you need something from your city government, you’ll know
exactly who to email or call.
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