Making New York City services and agencies more accessible to people with disabilities.
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:
- Making clickable links and areas large so that people who can’t control a mouse easily can still use them
- Coding pages so that they can be navigated using a keyboard alone, or a single switch access device
- Including closed captions and sign language interpretation with videos
- Providing descriptions for website images and links that allow blind users access with text-to-speech software and text-to-Braille hardware, and
- Visual enhancements that make it easier for people with reduced vision to navigate
Public events hosted by city agencies are required to include information about the accessibility of the event.
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.
Every city agency must have a disability services coordinator.
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.
Parks and transportation: accessible for people with disabilities.
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.