Monday September 20, 2021
504 Democratic Club
New York City general elections are around the corner but the outcome of the coming November 2nd contest was largely decided in the primaries, held on June 22. In 2019, the City voted to move to an election process called “Ranked Choice” voting that allows people to vote for up to 5 candidates in their order of preference. Advocates of ranked choice say it is a more accurate system and it also eliminates the need for runoff elections, needed when no candidate obtains a 50% plus 1 majority over their rivals.
The preliminary results of the ranked choice primaries were tainted when the Board of Elections mixed invalid ballots in with actual votes cast. The problem was quickly found and corrected. The screw-up was largely the fault of the Election Board, that has made several mistakes in recent election including massive and illegal election role purges in 2016 that eliminated many eligible voters. While some candidates criticized the ranked choice process for poor voter preparation and voter disenfranchisement, many people found the ability to rank candidates helpful, clear and easy to understand. The June 22nd Democratic primary had 13 Mayoral candidates including Paperboy Love Prince. This crowded field would have surely required a runoff election but the ranked choice voting system eliminated that.
There are 60 New York City elected offices that will be filled on November 2nd. The important question now is, “who are the candidates best aligned with the community of people with disabilities?” For the answer we turned to Mike Schweinsburg, President of the 504 Democratic Club. Established in 1983, 504 is a political club dedicated to issues of disability rights.
The 504 Democratic Club interviewed 7 of the 8 leading candidates for mayor. Andrew Yang, the 2020 presidential candidate was the only candidate who refused 504’s invitation. The club ultimately backed Maya Wiley for Mayor. According to Schweinsburg, “Wiley viewed many issues through the disability lens when formulating her policies.”
The primary agenda items 504 stressed during the endorsement interviews included: elevating the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) to a fully funded Department; prioritizing PWDs in the city’s COVID 19 recovery plan; continued and added pressure on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for better subway station accessibility and improvements in housing opportunities for our community.
Wiley was considered one of the two most “progressive” mayoral candidates in the race but she came in third in the primary. The winner, Brooklyn Borough President, Eric Adams is considered a “moderate” and viewed as taking significant campaign contributions from big business and the real estate industry; a constituency that many say, promote a more conservative agenda.
Adams narrowly beat-out Katherine Garcia, the city’s current Sanitation Commissioner. Both Garcia and Adams are main stream Democrats and more cautiously viewed by many in the progressive wing of the party. The 504 Democratic Club is now considering an endorsement of Adams in the November general election but, to date, have not finalized that decision.
There are 51 City Council seats and 504 interviewed candidates in about 40 of those races. Mike Schweinsburg was resolute in stating that “504 always supported candidates who knew and understood the issues of concern to the disability community and expressed that commitment. We often supported candidates we knew would not win but were the best aligned with our agenda.” Schweinsburg. went on to say, "we endorsed 2 candidates from the disability community who faced long odds; Harriet Hines is a scooter use who lives in the 40th Council district in Brooklyn and Dr. Keith Taylor, Chair of the Harlem Independent Living Center, who ran in the 9th District."
An impressive call for 504 was their endorsement of Shahana Hanif in Brooklyn’s 39th council district. A political newcomer and self described person with a disability, Hanif easily won against 7 rivals in a district that includes Park Slope, Kensington and parts of Downtown Brooklyn.
If you are interested in voter engagement for our community you can contact the Voter Engagement group of New York Downstate ADAPT at: (732) 955-7072; DNYADAPT@gmail.com or on Facebook
For information on, or membership to the 504 Democratic Club, contact Mike Schweinsburg at firstname.lastname@example.org
Advice for People with Disabilities
Running for Office
Running for elected office with a disability puts you in a unique position. You have the chance to speak for an overlooked group of people, and may even wish to include that in your platform. When pondering how to create a team and launch your campaign, there are some things to consider. Learn how to empower yourself for a successful career in politics. As you begin your journey, here are a few things you need to take into consideration.
Get To Know Your Community
Before you announce your candidacy, a great starting point is getting to know your local community on a deeper level. Getting involved with your community paints an image of someone who is willing to work for the people.
You can achieve this in many ways. For instance, you can use social media or choose to visit your neighbors and community in general, personally. Volunteering is another great way to engage in a personal way. You can host events in your local community such as community picnics, fundraisers for a cause, open houses, or cleaning up the neighborhood.
Involving yourself with advocacy can help you understand the real challenges your community faces, and being visible as a leader in your community makes it easy for you to acquire votes during elections. It also links you with other members of the community who share your passions. These people can become your advocates at a later stage.
Getting more involved in your community goes hand-in-hand with research. Study district voting trends to understand the views people hold. Interact with potential voters and listen to their opinions while staying on top of current events via local news. Explore several news outlets to grasp different opinions on issues.
Professionals To Hire for An Effective Campaign
Assembling a top-notch team ensures that you stay organized and have the support necessary to move forward with your campaign. Make sure you have all the people and tools needed for success.
Your finance director is at the head of your finances. Coming up with proper bookkeeping measures can be challenging, but it’s a must in today’s world, since politicians are scrutinized in all regards -- especially in terms of money. To make things easy, your finance director will probably encourage you to make use of an accounting system that eases your reporting. Choose software that allows you to examine metrics thoughtfully, collaborate with your team, and make edits on the fly.
A fundraising consultant collaborates with the finance director. They come up with a financial strategy and plan for fundraising activities. It should be someone well versed with donor networks and experienced when presenting candidates to prospective donors and event hosts. They should know how to plan events, set up email and call programs, and how to organize fundraising online.
A media consultant offers advice on campaign messaging. They can come up with advertising strategies while dealing with the development of ads.
You can hire a consultant for a particular media channel such as TV, online platforms, direct emails, or radio. Consider having firms that run ads on TV, cable networks, or digital platforms on retainer.
Ed Carter is an author and retired financial planner. He also runs a website called AbleFutures
Visit his website, AbleFutures.org
Texas Voting Law Violates ADA
If you follow the news, you know that Texas, under the leadership of Republican Governor Greg Abbott has just passed a law that radically restricts voting options and is clearly aimed at suppressing the Democratic vote. What you may not know is that the disability community is one of the main voices challenging these unfair and partisan maneuvers.
Bob Kafka is an organizer for ADAPT of Texas and the Texas Disability Project (TDP). In conjunction with Disability Rights Texas, he has started an initiative called the REV-UP campaign (Register, Educate, Vote, Use our Power). With the cooperation of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and other groups, REV-UP has become a national initiative.
Disability Rights Texas, REV-UP and Kafka are plaintiffs, along with many other groups, in a lawsuit challenging the “anti-voter" bill passed by the Texas Senate. One of the main points of this lawsuit is that the voting restrictions in this bill violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Bob Kafka at REV-UP Rally
An ironic twist to this story is that Governor Abbott is a wheelchair user as the result of a spinal cord injury that occurred in 1984 when he was 26 yeas old. One would think he would be more considerate of his community.
Disability Rights Candidate Runs
for Nassau County Legislature
|Nadia Holubnyczyj is a wheelchair user and resident of Floral Park. She is running for Nassau County’s 8th Legislative District on the Democratic and Working Families party line. Holubnyczyj is a long time community activist that has been involved with issues of disability rights, and food insecurity for more than 20 years. She is running against John Giuffré, a lawyer in private practice. Both Giuffré and Holubnyczyj and are seeking to replace Vincent Muscarella who held the seat since 1995. Muscarella is stepping down to run for county District Court judge in the 2nd District,||
|The Inter Press Service (IPS) published a scathing criticism of the World Bank for the discriminatory treatment of its employees with disabilities. The article, entitled “Disability Discrimination at the World Bank: Is it Immunity or Impunity?” outlines decades of examples of “sexual harassment,” “institutional discrimination” and “serious and consistent disability abuse.”||
The World Bank is an organization that lends and grants money to the governments of developing countries throughout the world. Their stated mission is to reduce poverty, increase prosperity, and promote sustainable development. Based in Washington DC, the World Bank is an International Financial Institution (IFI), and that is the problem.
IFI’s are banks that are chartered in more than one country and are therefore, only subject to international law. As an IFI, the World Bank is not required to obey any national law, like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or even the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The World Bank claims “diplomatic immunity” and does not cover its employees under an insurance policy. Instead, the World Bank “self insures” and many critics say the “program lacks clarity in requirements, and transparency in application”
The article focuses on examples of employment discrimination but also the failure of the World Bank to protect and insure it’s workers from employment related injuries. The IPS article cites numerous current and former staff members who spoke out about these problems and and then faced retaliation.
The IPS article goes on to say that “in the past three years, there have been a record number of complaints” and the “number of complaints has risen exponentially” to the point that the World Bank’s Staff Association has had “to retain additional outside counsel to address the flood of complaints.”
The article quoted in this story was published by Inter Press Service (IPS) . It is a global news agency headquartered in Rome. IPS is registered as an international not-for-profit association with permanent offices and correspondents in 41 countries, covering 108 nations. Its main focus is news and analysis about social, political, civil, and economic subjects as it relates to the Global South, civil society and globalization.
Our source for this story is:
Inter Press Service report on the World Bank
DIA member Teriananda brought this story to our attention.
President Biden has signaled his interest in disability rights by appointing Kimberly Knackstedt to be the first Director of Disability Policy. Ms. Knackstedt will be a member of the White House Domestic Policy Council that works with 12 Cabinet level agencies to develop and implement the president’s domestic agenda. The Domestic Policy Council was established by Bill Clinton in 1993.
Knackstedt will be working under Susan Rice, the presidents domestic policy director. Susan Rice is the former Ambassador to the United Nations and national security advisor to Barack Obama. Rice has vast experience, holding many positions in foreign affairs. This will be her first major appointment in domestic matters.
Time Magazine interviewed Kim Knackstedt on March 11, shortly after her appointment. The article mentions broad approval for this appointment from the disability rights community and specifically from Rebecca Cokley, former director of the National Council on Disability. Cokley said Knackstedt is someone “who was in the trenches with the disability community the last several years” and “has relationships with both activists and people on Capitol Hill.”
Knackstedt’s background is in special education, as a teacher and has recently acquired her PhD in that discipline. She has also authored and co-authored at least 7 research papers on the subject, many of which focus on the connection between public policy and education.
While Knackstedt’s qualifications in the field of education could bring focus and improvement there, the diverse needs and interests of the wider disability community fall in many other areas. Public health, transportation, employment, barrier removal and civil right are just a few of the many areas of concern to the largest minority. Let’s see if Kim Knackstedt is a quick learn and skilled at the juggling act of serving our diverse community.
Our source for this story was the e-Newsletter of:
The Law, Health Policy & Disability Center
at the University of Iowa College of Law
Bob Kafka is a disability rights activist and national organizer for ADAPT, an organization that self describes as “the largest all-volunteer, activist, grassroots, direct-action, disability rights organization in the country.” Kafka has been involved with the ADAPT since his first action in Washington DC in 1984 and continues as the an organizer of Texas ADAPT.
In late 2018, Bob Kafka took over the hosting chair at Barrier Free Futures, a radio show from KSFR Radio in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This weekly, half hour program airs on Saturday afternoons at 2:00 pm. According to the Barrier Free Futures page on the KSFR web site , the “radio program reflects the health, home/community living, arts/entertainment, legislation, technology, sports and recreation, education and employment activities, events and resources affecting persons with disabilities from a wide range of ages, ethnic and economic backgrounds.”
Barrier Free Futures is a talk show that has been on the air since 2015 and has interviewed guests from across the country on a wide rage of issues of interest to the community. The show is available as a podcast and an archive of past shows can be found on the Barrier Free Futures web site. Check it out.
Zoning for Accessibility
Only one quarter of New York City’s subway stations are accessible to people who use mobility devices and this problem has had the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) tied up in law suits. Disability rights activists have been attacking this lack of access for years but the cost of building elevators is high and money is often short in supply. Zoning for accessibility is one possible solution to help with this persistent problem.
Using public tax money is how subway elevators get built. But if we get private businesses to “chip in” and contribute to the making the system accessible, improvements happen faster. That is the idea behind zoning for accessibility. Real estate developers who leave room in their building design for subway station elevators or other accessible features would receive changes to zoning regulations to improve their bottom line.
Accessible MTA Train Platform
The City already has a “zoning bonus” program where developers can build elevators for the MTA in exchange for zoning variances. Zoning for accessibility expands the program to more areas of the city and facilitates the construction of future accessible accommodations.
Zoning for accessibility (ZFA) is still in the planning stages and being reviewed by local Community Boards, Borough Presidents and the City’s formal land use review process. ZFA is supported by the MTA, the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities and is looking for support from the general public and the community of people with a disability.
Our sources for this story are:
Department of City Planning Website
An article in the Brooklyn Eagle by Jessica Murray
California Forced Sterilization Program of PWD's
In an action alert by the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF), the California legislature is considering a law to pay reparations to “survivors of forced sterilization in State institutions and prisons, who were overwhelmingly people with disabilities, Black people, Latina/os, women, and poor people.”
(continued until 2015!)
According to the DREDF alert, California forcibly sterilized more than 20,000 people under its eugenics law and “disabled people of color and disabled women were” the primary targets. While the eugenics law was repealed in 1979 the practice continued until 2015.
The California legislature has allowed this bill to die in committee for the last 3 years and many believe this is a reflection of society’s continuing indifference toward people with intellectual disabilities. Disability rights advocates are asking for support for this legal remedy by having the public sign an online petition. A letter writing and social media campaign are also being conducted to support this cause.
Our source for this story is:
This DREDF Action Alert
To sign the petition in support this bill in California
Grants for Filmmakers with Disabilities
|Starting June 1, the AXS Film Fund will be accepting applications from filmmakers of color, with disabilities for grants of up to $10,000. These grants are available to creators of nonfiction and documentary films “to assist them finishing their projects in any stage of production.”||
According to their website, “AXS Film Fund seeks to bring visibility to this underrepresented community of creators by intervening and providing opportunities that they may not otherwise have with mainstream funding structures,” leaders of the fund noted. “Grantees will be supported in their endeavors to tell stories, make films, and create content.”
The AXS Film Fund is the creation of Jason DaSilva, Emmy Award winning documentary filmmaker. His documentary films have appeared at the Sundance film festival, Vancouver International Film Festival, the Tribeca Film Festival and aired on PBS series POV.
Edith Prentiss was a fierce advocate for disability rights in New York City. She knew all sides of every issue and made sure you knew her view was the right one. Any policy or issue that had even remote effect on the disability community was on Edith’s radar screen. Edith was a true believer in the squeaky wheel method of getting things done. She knew all the players and where to apply the pressure.
She understood advocacy and activism as if it was part of her DNA. She was on the disability advisory committee of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and Manhattan Borough President. She was a long time member of her local community board, the New York City Emergency Management Special Needs Taskforce and the Washington Heights/Inwood Council on Aging. She also held many leadership positions including President of the 504 Democratic Club, Chair of the Taxis for All Campaign and Vice President and President of Disabled In Action (DIA). And that’s not a complete list!
Edith Prentiss, 2010
Edith died on Saturday, March 16 at her home in the Washington Heights at the age of 69. Arlene Schulman has been making a film about Edith who’s working title is “Hell On Wheels.” According to Able News, the film is slated to be released” in the near future.
Our sources for this story are:
Able News Article on the passing of Edith Prentiss
Edith's New York Times Obituary
|Disability activists and advocates currently have 3 major lawsuits pending against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the New York State entity that operates the public trains and buses in and around New York City. The lawsuit that has become a class-action is particularly interesting and significant because it was not filed as a federal suit using the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Instead, this lawsuit was filed in State court using New York City Human Rights Law.||
Disability Rights Advocates and Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP are the two law firms leading this case. They contend that New York City Human Rights Law specifically “requires entities that operate public transportation systems in the City to take affirmative steps to ensure that their programs and services are accessible to people with mobility disabilities.”
The original lawsuit named 4 of the city’s independent living centers, Disabled In Action, the New York Statewide Senior Action Council and 3 individuals: Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, Dustin Jones, and Chris Pangilinan as the plaintiffs. The State Supreme Court certification of this case as a class-action makes it much stronger and says that it now represents all New Yorkers with a disability.
The 2 other lawsuits against the MTA are ADA cases. The ongoing “Middletown Road” case reinforced the responsibility of the MTA to make accessible accommodations when it does renovations to stations. The other case claims that the agency’s record of poor elevator maintenance is discriminatory.
Our source for this story is:
DRA Press Release
Quemuel Arroyo Named as New
MTA Chief Accessibility Officer
In early February, the MTA announced the appointment of Quemuel Arroyo to the newly created position of Chief Accessibility Officer.” This new position seems to be an expanded version of the job held by Alex Elegudin who was the person in charge of access for NYC Transit, the subdivision of the MTA that runs the buses and subways within the 5 boroughs.
Arroyo in his role as Chief Accessibility Officer will also oversee access and barrier removal on Metro North and the Long Island Railroad lines. He is coming to his new job with several years of experience at the New York City Department of Transportation where he “built the DOT’s accessibility plan” according to an article in the Daily News . That February 3rd article by Clayton Guse went on to say that “Transit officials expect he’ll do the same at the MTA, which doesn’t have an agency-wide accessibility strategy.”
Arroyo is being praised from all sides. MTA board chairman Patrick Foye and Brooklyn Center for the Independence of the Disabled Executive Director Joe Rappaport describe him as everything from “a seasoned professional” to “immensely talented.” But a sad fact is that his success might depend on neither.
According to a December 2019 “Debt Overview” report the MTA is nearly $43 billion in the red! And that does not include the additional debt caused by keeping the system running during the COVID-19 pandemic. For far too long the MTA has been cursed by poorly managed capitol programs and used as a vehicle for political “payback” to unions and political donors. These allegations are outlined is a New York Times story from December 28, 2017.
Debt and mismanagement are plaguing existing MTA expansion projects like the 2nd Avenue Subway and the tunnel connecting Grand Central Terminal and the LIRR in Queens. Governor Cuomo and Mayor DiBlasio are hoping the Biden-Harris COVID-19 Relief package will supply funding to keep basic services running. So where will the MTA find money to build new subway elevators?
The COVID-19 Relief package does have funds allocated for public transportation; but please don’t start jumping for joy. There is $45 billion but most of that is for airports and airlines. A little less than $10 billion is allocated for “Surface Transportation Block Grants” and that is going to be shared by many cities and states. If our public officials manage to keep the buses and trains running on a normal schedule without raising fares, that will be a miracle.
Chief Accessibility Officer Quemuel Arroyo and MTA board member Victor Calise have a load of work on their plate. Priority #1 will be to figure out how to create a lot of access with very little resources. Hopefully, when money is finally available, they will have come up with a viable plan that will provide access to a subway system where 75% of stations are inaccessible. The 2 big questions are: will the MTA let them flap in the wind or give them support and resources they need? The other question is, will the disability community work with, respect and trust these men or treat them like fall guys for the MTA? I’m hoping for progress.
|AXS Lab is an organization founded and run by Jason DaSilva, an Emmy Award winning filmmaker. His nonprofit organization is “dedicated to using media and technology to advocate for people with disabilities.” AXS Lab is currently “building a network of organizations and people to supercharge the movement for inclusion of people with disabilities. [Their] aim to engage audiences to playfully explore the disability experience using new media, films, and the power of story.”||
The latest extension of this project is the AXS Film Fund, [ https://www.axsfilmfund.org/ ] whose goal is to “support independent documentary filmmakers and nonfiction new media creators of color with disabilities, in their work to tell stories of inclusion and accessibility (or lack of).”
The fund was started this year and will be awarding grants of up to $10,000 to 5 documentary filmmakers of color with a disability. DaSilva, the program’s Founder and President says:
|"Filmmakers of color have fought hard to win equality and move beyond the racial barriers of predominantly white Hollywood. Meanwhile, creators of color with disabilities are rarely seen in media and film. The majority of the time, they are not even in control of the creation of projects, or tools, thus eliminating the voice of an entire community.
It is essential now to be supporting and telling the stories of people of color with disabilities at this historic time of open dialogue about equality, race, and racism. We talk about people of color’s struggles, but do we think about people of color with disabilities struggles? People who have to deal with not only racism, but also negative stigmas about their disabilities?"
|Many scholars and historians say the modern disability rights movement began in the late 19th century; others go back farther. A quick scan of the world wide web (with Duck Duck Go) produced a list of more than 30 graduate, undergraduate and certificate programs in Disability Studies in the united States and Canada. Clearly, lots of people will be studying and debating this question for years to come.||
Disability rights activists need to know their history as do all citizens. Warren Shaw is a self described “writer, historian, professor, and practicing attorney. He has published hundreds of articles and appeared on dozens of television and radio broadcasts discussing New York City’s political, architectural and cultural history and policy.” He is also the son of Julius Shaw, the former director of what is now known as the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities.
Warren has just announced his new website called Disability History NYC. He describes it as “the first website of its kind, covering the epic sweep of disability and disability activism in the City of New York. It is a little-known but ever-evolving chronicle as old as the City itself. Here you will find profiles of the pioneers of the past and present, the sites of great human rights battles, stories of struggle, persistence and eventual success.”
This new site will be updated monthly, with new entries that will help bring this vital civil rights story to life. The site is user friendly, with audio versions of the text and an accessibility widget on the lower left corner.
Visit the Disability History NYC website
Brazilian Ballet Dancer
Truly One of a Kind
As a person with close ties and appreciation for the movement arts, I was drawn and overwhelmed by a video I found on the BBC web page for disability news.
The video is about a talented young Brazilian ballet dancer. 16 year old Vitoria Buono Boche was born without arms. The video shows her performing, training and navigating her everyday life in amazing and creative ways. And yes, the video can be seen as another inspiring story of a person “overcoming their disability.” But for me she is an outstanding dancer with skills like no one else I have ever seen. She “does bar” without holding onto the bar! She is solid on pointe without arms for balance! She is a phenomenon that was born to dance.
I hope you enjoy this story as much as I did.
Vitoria Buono Boche
Our sources for this story are:
BBC disability news page (1:24m video scroll to bottom of page - Russian captioning)
Extended Daily Mirror version (4:31m video)
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