Community Forum with Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr.

June 4, 2008

TRANSCRIPT

 

 

COMPTROLLER THOMPSON:  Let me thank you for that very kind introduction, Alberta, and let me thank you for joining me the other day at the press conference that we held.

 

It was funny.  It's -- I got a number of calls that day from people who heard, people who saw the press release, people who heard what we were talking about that day who heard it on the radio, and called to say that it made sense to them, and they didn't understand why the United States didn't move in the direction of most of the other countries in the world, so let me again thank you for joining me at our press conference on Monday, for your comments at the press conference, and for your continued commitment to people with disabilities and your dedication.

     

You have worked long and hard to bring people together.  So let me thank you very much for the work that you have done over the years.  Let me also acknowledge Lawrence Carter-Long, Rebecca Hinde, and everyone at the Disabilities Network of New York City for helping to organize this event and inviting me to join you today.

  

It is a pleasure to be here, because I see this forum as an opportunity for all of us.  First, it's an opportunity for me to simply say thank you to all of you.  Your tireless efforts to improve the lives of New Yorkers with disabilities is incredibly impressive, and I'm glad to be here today to express my deep appreciation for everything that you do, both as individuals through your respective organizations and together in this Network, and I have to admit the idea of the Network that works together is a great idea.

   

But I'd also like this forum today to be an opportunity for a number of you here.  After my brief remarks, I'd like to hear from you.  I'd like for you to be able to tell me what's going well with people with disabilities in New York City, what isn't going well, and what we need to do to make improvements.

     

And I realize I could be asking -- for a long list of things.  That’s fine.  That's fine.  Because most importantly this forum is an opportunity for all of us to work together.  I'm here today to listen to your concerns, learn from your struggles, and work with all of you to make New York City the best city in the world for people with disabilities.

    

I know we have much to do, but, you know, I have to say, when I look across this great city of ours, I see lifts on buses, assistive listening devices at Broadway theaters and movies, tactile maps, and children with disabilities learning in the same classroom as children without disabilities.

     

It never sees ceases to amaze me that it wasn't until the 1970s that the disabilities rights movement got going.  To mark how far this city has come in 35 years, this progress is a tribute to all of you, the men and women who have dedicated all of your lives to the fight for equal rights and access for people with disabilities.  But, as you all know, and know well, the battles have been hard fought.

     

One incident in particular stands out in my mind as emblematic of the challenges facing this community. Some of you may remember one of the most critical moments in the struggle for civil rights for people with disabilities in New York City came in the 1980s, when Frieda Zames from Disabled in Action and others sued the MTA [Metropolitan Transit Authority] to require that all city buses include wheelchair lifts and elevators in subway stations. Frieda also helped organize a protest to challenge the MTA's electric wheelchair lifts.  She and others parked themselves in front of an M14 bus on the corner of 3rd Street and Avenue A, refusing to let it move.

   

But the MTA's initial reaction to that lawsuit, quite honestly, was not so historic.  It might even be considered -- I'm not going to say funny.  It is sad, and at times so typical.  In response to the lawsuit, the MTA basically said -- let may paraphrase in not so many words – “Wait a minute.  Why would we put wheelchair lifts on buses?  People with disabilities don't ride the bus.”

     

[Laughter]

 

Well, tell that to the New Yorkers who used wheelchair lifts 891,000 times in the month of March of this year alone.  Fortunately, the disability community won its lawsuit, and the case became a model for requiring access in transit systems nationwide.  And thanks to people like you and the organizations like the Disabilities Network, the struggle for full integration and inclusion by the disability community has also led to the passage of several major pieces of federal legislation. This includes Section 504, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act].  All of these are legal protection for people with disabilities in the city and state human rights laws.  There's no question that exciting progress has been made, but having a law doesn’t necessarily change attitudes or ensure compliance.  Today, many employers in New York City and around our country still deny jobs to people with disabilities, or claim that people with disabilities are too disabled or not disabled enough, as recent Supreme Court cases weakening the ADA have shown.

     

Changing attitudes through education and communications one-on-one and through forums like this are critical to ensuring that government and the private sector honor just not just the letter of these laws, but the spirit as well.  Today the topic of this forum is the New York City budget and its effect on people with disabilities, but when we sat down in the office and I participated with others in putting together remarks, I found difficult to be specific about this topic, because I realized that the concerns of people with disabilities overlap with the work of almost every City agency.

 

That's why whether it's the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the Department of Parks and Recreation, or the Department of Transportation, every City agency has an obligation to understand the needs of people with all types of disabilities -- physical, sensory, mental, and cognitive.  And to ensure that those needs are met.  Many of you know New York City's economy is currently going through a downturn in the financial and real estate industries, the implications of which we may not fully understand for many months to come, because our revenues are so tied to those sectors.  If you look, it's the financial markets or the financial sector; it is real estate and tourism, in so many ways, that have been driving our City’s economy.

     

Our revenues are so tied to those sectors.  New York City is looking at digit deficits of 1.3 billion in 2010, 4.67 in 2011.  July first of this year, we will begin fiscal year 2009. Our gap looks like $4.5 billion in 2012.  When you get down to it, the budget is just a reflection of our values and priorities as a city, and today’s downturn must not be used as an excuse for New York City to shirk its responsibility to everybody as a model for people with disabilities throughout our nation.

 

On the contrary, we have to be bold, because strength in the face of adversity is what New York City is all about.  It's what makes New York -- it's what makes New York City New York City.  And we have to make sure we never abandon our courage to look forward.

     

As some of you know, in my work as New York City Comptroller, I oversee and at times some would say I torture many city agencies, in a way of speaking.  Commissioners don't like to hear from the Comptroller’s Office.  I report on the stay of the City's economy, advise the Mayor, and push them on the budget.  We register contracts, make recommendations on program operations, and are responsible for auditing City agencies.  This has given me insight into our City’s government, and today I can tell you:  Many City agencies are making efforts to better serve constituents with disabilities.  Some can do better than others, and all could do better, to be honest about it.

    

Case in point:  Last year, in July, my office issued an audit finding that the New York City Department of Education is not effectively monitoring or tracking the provisions of special education.  That may be from a Comptroller's standpoint, that might mean one thing.  For those of you who don't know, I was a former member of the New York City Board of Education for two years and, for an additional five, I was the President.  I understand IEPs [Individualized Education Programs], I understand when services are being provided and not being provided, so when I took a look at it, the first thing we understood -- the IEPs were supposedly being done, but the services weren't being documented. There was no way of being able to tell whether young people were receiving the services that they needed.

    

One thing my audit doesn't say is as I talked to people in the field after the audit, they indicated that the IEPs weren't being done in a timely fashion.  They were backed up. Young people weren't being served as they should.  Going back to that audit, my auditors found that the flaws included records that were inadequate or incomplete, that special education students received services on the days when schools were closed, and it was impossible for them to receive services that day.

    

Shocked, dismayed -- that's putting it mildly.  But I was hopeful that the sunshine that we provided -- we shown the light on that.  And hopefully it would spur the Department of Education to more diligent oversight and provision of essential services to our students.  We're going to go back.  That's one thing -- it isn't just initial.

     

I can't tell the chancellor what to do.  I'd love to be able to, but I can't.  One of the things we can do is to highlight a problem and then go back again to find out if in fact they were compliant with the findings that we came up with.  If they made changes and improvements.  We'll find that out in the near future.

   

In addition, as a member of the taxi for all campaign -- my efforts were to pressure the Taxi and Limousine Commission to know that it can and must do more to ensure that all taxi cabs are accessible to people with physical and sensory impairments and that livery services provide meaningful access as required by law also.  The reason we're pushing them so hard is because I know that accessible transportation is a fundamental requirement for living independently.

   

I'm also concerned about other transportation related issues facing this community, in1cluding the maintenance and quantity of elevators and escalators at subway stations the service quality and safety, and in conversation in the office the other day -- if that program operated more efficiently, things would be better, and how we could tie that in.

   

Taxi cabs, and limousines -- into improving service, perhaps even saving money in the long run.  We haven't started jet yet, but I will let you know -- the majority of my staff doesn't realize – Susan [Scheer]’s taking notes.  We're going to audit Access-A-Ride.  As I pointed out, my staff doesn't know.

   

 We talked about it in the office.  It's something I've wanted to do for a while.  Things need to improve.  Things need to improve, and the complaints and concerns about Access-A-Ride continue to grow.

  

As I said, my staff doesn't know yet, other than the discussion we had in the office the other day.  I don't know if word was spread to the appropriate staff people.  Somewhere in the next month we’ll begin an audit of Access-A-Ride.  It'll take probably six months after that, but we'll begin an audit of Access-A Ride.

  

 And talking about the need to accelerate the creation of curb cuts and penalize contracts for work done improperly -- from what I understand in talking to others -- the City doesn't monitor or do an effective job at all of going back -- it's been pointed out to me in weeks -- making sure that curb cuts are being done in a uniform basis. That’s one of the complaints people have brought to my attention recently.  It almost is as if no one monitors those.

  

So we're going to work with the agency to make sure that that is done in a uniform basis as well as someone goes out to monitor the curb cuts, to make sure they were done effectively and efficiently.

  

I know that housing is also a major concern for people in this community, and for good reason.  There's simply too few accessible housing units in New York City.  But not only that -- many of the units that are accessible are not affordable, and we have to push private developers and the Office of Housing Preservation and Development to provide both accessible and affordable units for people with disabilities in New York City.

 

The last issue I'd like to discuss today is employment.  Because I think it's simply unacceptable that people with disabilities are among the poorest in the nation. Mostly to blame are the powerful disincentives built into benefit programs like Medicaid, SSI, and SSD.  These disincentives, combined with the low wages many employed individuals with disabilities receive force many individuals to choose to forgo paid work and have led to a chronically high unemployment rate of over 70%.  That is a staggering and frightening number.

   

To correct this situation, government officials must begin to ask themselves some tough questions about how to help people with disabilities receive the education and work experience needed to obtain jobs that will allow them to become economically self-sufficient.  Specifically, how can we further increase employment opportunities for youth with disabilities through internships and existing programs like the summer youth employment program, and expand programs for all people with disabilities through both the public and private sectors?

 

New York City government must begin to answer these questions, but we need your help and guidance.  I believe the fairest and most effective way to work for the rights of people with disabilities in New York City is summed up perfectly by the group ADAPT’s slogan. “Nothing about us without us.”  People with disabilities must be at the table providing feedback before programs are designed or regulations are issued. During implementation and afterwards, to evaluate the outcomes.  Every New Yorker seeking to work and live in our city should have full access to all we have to offer. Shutting people out just doesn't make sense financially or morally, and we must ensure that our city is not only accessible for people with disabilities but welcoming as well.  Again, let me thank you for inviting me to join you today.

 

It's been an opportunity to say hello and address some of the most pressing issues facing this community, but as I indicated at the opening of my comments, I'd like to hear from you.  As people with disabilities living in New York City, what are some of your main concerns, and how can government work to alleviate the problems?

 

With that, I guess it's kind of opening the floor.

 

MR. CARTER-LONG:  This is Lawrence in the back of the room. I’ve got the roving mic.  A couple of things that I ask you:  One, if you have a comment, or want to ask a question, please let us know who you are.  If you're affiliated with an organization, please state that as well.

  

Secondly, don't just complain.  If you have a problem, and there are many problems out there, it's good to offer a solution as well. This is not therapy.  Anybody who wants therapy, I'm $50 an hour. Okay?

  

COMPTROLLER THOMPSON:  My rates have gone up.

     

MR. CARTER-LONG:  He's doing $60. So those are the two things that I ask.  I have a mobility impairment, so I can't get around the room that fast. 

EDITH PRENTISS:  I'm Edith Prentiss.  I'm in every group.  I think one of the things we have to look at in a housing situation is the lack of parity between SCRIE [Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption.] and DRIE [Disability Rent Increase Exemption] means that those of us who are in housing that we have accommodated to that may be perfect-- but the thought of moving is the nightmare.  We don't have parity with seniors is a situation that is problematic, and we all know the problem is the City.

 

Historically, the City has refused to accept this.  They're afraid we're going to live too long.  And sorry, I'm not going to die tomorrow to make the Mayor happy.  But what can you do as the Comptroller to push the City towards such equity?

     

COMPTROLLER THOMPSON:  The one thing -- as -- while I may not control the agencies, the one thing that I've always pointed out -- I have a great bully pulpit as the Comptroller of the City of New York. I like to say it's the number two elected position citywide in the city.  But Betsy may disagree with me.  She's a great friend of mine. I point out they pay me more.  She's higher on the ballot than I am.

 

AUDIENCE MEMBER: But you're a guy.

   

COMPTROLLER THOMPSON:  That doesn't --

    

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Gender equity.

    

COMPTROLLER THOMPSON:  Male, female -- that doesn't matter.  The issue, though, and I believe we can push some of the City agencies to create parity.  There's legislation on the state level on that. That’s a question of moving the legislation forward.  I don't know that we have to get full agreement.  Can we push the City to come into line?  It needs to be done, but I believe it can be accomplished if the City doesn't agree, just by the state legislature passing that. We can be helpful in pushing the legislation.  We can work on -- we can be aggressive on, and as I said, in the long run, as far as we’re concerned, it makes sense.  It is the right thing to do.

   

MS. PRENTISS: Part of the problem is that the legislature is not willing to make the Mayor stand up and be the heavy in this, but I do think the City, external of the Mayor has to take a much more assertive stance.  It's fine to say you've got a bully pulpit.  It needs to be exercised, because historically every mayor has fought this, when it's come down to being an agreement on the table -- the mayors have been there refusing it.

 

I would hope that you would exercise your bully pulpit.  Or we could kneecap people, if that makes it better.

    

[Laughter]

    

MR. CARTER-LONG:  More disabled people makes it more of a priority.  Vigilantes for disability rights.  You heard it here first!

  

PHILIP BENNETT:  Thanks for coming here to honor -- I think you'll make an awesome mayor, if you decide to run.  Education is my biggest concern.  That we -- oh, my name is Philip Bennett.  I'm a member of Disabled in Action.  Education is your specialty, obviously, and I'm concerned about disabled people who the taxpayers are paying to get educated who aren't getting educated, because they're having their paraprofessionals take the tests for them, and when they're able to walk, they have paraprofessionals saying let me get you this wheelchair, and by the time they get out of high school, they've lost the ability to walk.  I can tell you a couple people.  I can't name names, but the problem is -- when I was a kid, I was involved with a lot of physically disabled people, and they were getting educated.  This was in the mid-70s.  Today, as you probably know, with the Somoza lawsuit,

it's not happening.  Kids are leaving high school without knowing how to read and write, because the paraprofessionals are doing the work for them, and I know that for a fact.

 

I'd like to know if you can comment.  Thank you again for being here.

    

COMPTROLLER THOMPSON:  The only thing I would say in that regard-- without giving us specific names, the paras -- if they are in fact doing the work, taking tests, and other things, give me a hint of where.  Because I wouldn't stand -- I'm not going to sit by and let that happen.

 

So right now we can try and take a look, investigate that now. There’s a larger issue.  If you can give me any specifics without compromising those that you know -- I'm not asking you to burn anybody.  But that is wrong and does nothing but hold people back.

 

It is a false sense of progress, and I can't think of anything that works against development.  So quietly -- we'll take a look at that.  It may happen in some places, but it doesn't happen systemwide.  If it has, or if it is, that has been a change in the last seven years, and I'd be stunned.

 

I don't think things have improved, to be honest about it, in the last six and a half to seven years, but God knows I hope it hasn’t fallen that far.  I have to be blunt.  I have to get some information.

    

MR. BENNETT: Talk to Mary Somoza.

 

JOE GORDON: Thank you for this encouraging work that you're doing.  I'm with the Hearing Loss Association of America, and I don't have a question.  I have a big thank you for your announcement on March 26th, creating a Cable Consumer Bill of Rights.  That will force the cable companies -- and the new ones coming in -- to present and pass through the closed captions, which are mandated by the FCC that will help the Deaf people, the hard of hearing people, and the people with English as a second language, a very big population in New York City, and I brought a copy of your beautiful press release here.

 

COMPTROLLER THOMPSON:  Thank you.  The Verizon contract has just been approved by the FCRC [Franchise and Concession Review Committee].  We were able to get not all but most of the Cable Consumer Bill of Rights included.  There were a couple of things I wasn't able to get -- arbitration.  But we were able to get real adherence to federal laws and other things in there.

 

We're proud of the work there.  It is something that -- Verizon was the first, and what I said as soon as we did that -- we are now in process of starting negotiations with Time Warner and Cablevision for their new franchises, and we're going to use the work that was done with Verizon as the blueprint for moving forward in the future.  Thank you very much.

 

LINDA OSTREICHER: My name is Linda Ostreicher.  I'm representing the Center for Independence of the Disabled New York.  When you said you managed the City's investment funds -- I thought of all the housing that isn't being built because there is no money to build it that would be affordable to people with disabilities.  You were right to say how hard that is to do, but people on SSI [Supplemental Security Income] have absolutely no chance at the $724 a month of being qualified to apply for any of the new housing being built.

 

And the new affordable housing is some of the only accessible housing in the city, and it's for people at two or three times the income of people with disabilities on benefits.  So is it possible that you could consider using any of those investment funds to somehow support the building of housing that's for the truly low income?  Thank you.

 

COMPTROLLER THOMPSON:  We have invested -- and I use the word invested -- we've invested hundreds of millions of dollars in New York City in real estate and in housing.  A lot of that has gone into affordable housing, spread out across the City of New York.  There are definitely -- and I could talk about probably thousands of humans in that regard.  Some for rehabilitation.  Some for new housing.  If you look at the income levels -- it is truly for low income housing.  A lot of it.  Some of it for moderate.  But if you look at -- as I said, some of it has been -- I'll be -- the only reason we can invest in --we can invest in housing for low income but it also requires deep subsidy to go along with it.

    

 That's part of the issue.  So the lower the income level, the deeper the subsidy.  Most of what New York City has done has been investing -- has been to put money into deep subsidy in a lot of different ways, for low and moderate income.  We've tried to put some of our dollars in there also.  I'd be happy to let you take a look at where we put money and the income levels, but we've tried to do things that cross the board.  Some for moderate, some for middle, but a lot in low and moderate income.  Some of it also has been in commercial real estate and other place, but a lot of the money that we've done, a

lot of the investment, has been in low and moderate income.

    

MS. OSTREICHER: There's nothing being built except for supportive housing that is at a level -- the definition of extremely low income is 30% of the area median income, which is twice what a person on SSI gets, so even if you're investing in median income, the only housing that is being built for people at an SSI level is supportive housing, and that is not truly independent housing.

   

MR. CARTER-LONG:  To give that a little context, if you look at the Mayor's plan for 2030 and housing, nowhere in that document are the words “accessible, universal design, or disability.” Nowhere in the agencies thanked in that document is the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities.  So it's contrary to what you said earlier -- nothing about us without us.  It was out of sight, out of mind.

  

COMPTROLLER THOMPSON:  By the way, I'm going to give you a person I'd love you to have a conversation with so we can follow up on that.

  

CRAIG GURIAN: Okay.  Anti-Discrimination Policy and Action Center.  I have a legislative question.  Existing fair housing laws are ineffective for people with disabilities and others in the co-op context, because of the secrecy of the application process.  More than 30 City Council Members are sponsoring a Co-op Bill that would require co-ops that give a family a turn down a written statement with specific reasons for rejection.  The bill is supported by 30 civil rights groups including several disability rights groups, but nevertheless, Speaker Quinn has not permitted a hearing on the bill for over two years.

 

I have two questions for you.  One, do you approve of that lack of legislative transparency, and two, why haven't you come out in support of the bill?

   

COMPTROLLER THOMPSON:  To be blunt, I don't think anyone has asked us and approached us.  On this one, it seems to have disclosure regarding why and why not.  That seems to make sense.  I believe we would be supportive of that.  This is coming from me, not staff.  I would be happy to go on record of being supportive of that and reachout and write the speaker on this issue.

 

MR. GURIAN: Thank you very much.

 

GREG BELL: Good afternoon.  My name is Greg Bell.  I am Executive Director of Insights for New Housing, located in the Bronx.  And on the economic development committee of Planning Board Four.  The question I have is in three different areas.  First in the MTA dealing with elevated train stations.  In the Bronx, wherever there are educational opportunities for people with disabilities, there's no elevated train.  There is a community college that doesn't have an elevated train station-- but at the next stop up, there is.  At Fordham Road – at Kingsbridge --

    

 COMPTROLLER THOMPSON:  Shopping without education.

     

MR. BELL: You understand where I'm going.  So I want to see if there's an audit that checks whether or not elevated train stations-- knowledge is power.  You have schools like Lehman, Monroe, and all of those schools have disability components to them, and there's a high unemployment rate.  The definition of affordable housing is different?  New York City, New York State, and the federal government, so when an individual with disabilities as in this forum asks a question of an elected official and talks about integrated independent housing, when I hear the response talking about developing affordable housing -- it's not affordable.  The Independent Living Council takes 125% of a low income individual's income in order to even apply for housing.  125% is something they're not going to have.

 

So the housing is not really suitable for them, even though the Ex-Governor Spitzer put together $400 million proposed amount of money to be able to put a subsidy in place so that individuals with disabilities would be able to have access.  As opposed to our current mayor -- he was going to build a building that we don't have access to-- third, it deals with Cablevision and the contracts that are being

made.  As I said, knowledge is power.

 

Speaking with community bulletin boards are on New York 1, 9, a, 7, 11, 12 is a public access station --

 

COMPTROLLER THOMPSON:  Those aren't public access -- depending on where 12 is.  Bronx, that is public access?

 

And Bronx in that 67-70 is also public access.  I have the only speaking community calendar that allows a visually impaired individual to hear what other people see.  I have no problem with closed captioning.  That's a good thing.  And the Bill of Rights to have access -- but it leaves the visually impaired community left out.  I heard a story on New York 1 where a young lady happened to hear about a prostate cancer examination -- she found that she was dealing with prostate cancer and is now a cancer survivor.  The same individual wouldn't have had access and could have passed away.  This doesn't allow a person to have entrepreneurial and educational opportunities.  Could you speak to those three issues?

    

COMPTROLLER THOMPSON:  Number one, the first thing -- looking at MTA and elevators and where they are placed.

    

AUDIENCE MEMBER: It was determined by lawsuit.

     

MR. CARTER-LONG:  It was determined by lawsuit.  Not by the MTA.

    

TK SMALL: Yes, there was a lawsuit between what was then EPPA, and there was a hundred key station list developed in the settlement.  The only station that the MTA had power in the selection was the one-hundredth, and we went back and forth over that one-hundredth for a long time.  Et cetera, in the Bronx, wherever.  There was a discussion about making all of 42nd Street accessible.  But the bulk of that -- 99% of it – was determined by the lawsuit.  We have to start talking, though.  I will agree with the next generation of stations.  But the current generation of stations were determined by that.

    

MR. CARTER-LONG:  Thank you.  Is there more you wanted to say there?

    

COMPTROLLER THOMPSON:  I was just making a note there.  Sorry about that.  Question -- just coming back to the gentleman for one second.  You talked about the $400 million at the state that Governor Spitzer had started to put aside -- what was the final outcome there?

 

[Inaudible]

 

MR. CARTER-LONG:  Anybody know what the outcome was there?  TK?  Might I ask -- there's only one of me.  Please keep your comments and your questions to one.  Thank you.

    

MR. SMALL:  Thank you.  My name is TK Small.  Partial answer to that is that there was initially a $400 million proposal, and it got negotiated down to a $200 million development chunk of money that would be used in roughly sort of poor areas.  One would be workforce housing, one would be supportive housing, and another aspect was homeless initiatives.

 

And other aspects were various upstate redevelopment areas.  So the money could be used in a variety of different areas.  But $200 million spread across an entire state like New York, particularly in light of the crisis that housing is facing here in New York City --there is a matter of, you know, cutting out the pie.  What might come down to New York City that would benefit people with disabilities is going to be a drop in the bucket in light of how many developers are going to be opting out of the various subsidized housing programs.

 

So while we complained a lot today about the problem of housing -- I had the microphone earlier, so I was reluctant to pile on, but it’s a very real situation, where there's an entire building on 29th Street of seniors with disabled, that every two or three years are faced with a crisis of their private owners opting out of the federal program, and 30 years ago, when properties on the east side were not deemed valuable or attractive, that's where we put the disabled people.  (Inaudible.)

     

And the reality of it is that where are we going to put all these thousands of people that might currently have subsidized housing?  I lived in a subsidized building in Brooklyn, and my owner, my developer, they could sell my building, and where would I go?  Do I live on the sidewalk in a cardboard box?  Somehow I don't think my attendants would appreciate getting me up from a park bench.  So there really is a crisis.  I mean, I don't want to sound -- economically stated, the next administration really needs to seriously sit down and tackle this issue.

 

And as a possible solution, there needs to be a housing czar that can pull together the various City administrations and do this. We’ve had a proposal on the table of the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities that frankly has been going nowhere fast for more than a year.  And so, you know, when the new housing marketplace plan doesn’t mention people with disabilities, something is really wrong.

  

I would hope that you can do something about that.

    

COMPTROLLER THOMPSON:  And the third part of that -- cable.  Just as far as now is probably the time, if there's additional ideas that can be put in front of the cable companies that can be helpful there, we should try to do that now.  I'm going to have somebody come over and follow up with you on that before we leave.

 

MR. CARTER-LONG:  The Disabilities Network is compiling information on that as well.

     

COMPTROLLER THOMPSON:  Those conversations are starting now.  So we just need that quickly.  And as I said, as part of the discussion, they have to come through the Franchise Review Committee.  We'll push the issue, but we need to see it quickly.

 

KEN STEWART: I'm president of the Metropolitan Council of Low Vision Individuals.  I have two related concerns about pedestrian safety for blind and vision impaired pedestrians.  You mentioned both of these areas.  Curb ramps require detectable warning strips.  Truncated domes and high visual contrast.  The Transportation Department needs to be reminded that every single curb that goes in, whether City of New York or private property owners, that is now a requirement since July 2004, and when they resurface a street next to a curb ramp, and there's been thousands of curb ramps in before that time, needs retrofitting, and they need convincing on that too much.

 

The Taxi and Limousine Commission is going to be monitoring taxicabs, and there's a push on to green our city -- we all like the idea of getting hybrid taxis.  A taxi that can operate silently is a very scary proposition.  Children, bicyclists, but most of all blind pedestrians.  We need to hear vehicles even if they're operating on electric power.  There must be a requirement.

    

[Applause]

 

Thank you.  The first step might be for your office to make a commitment not to purchase any more vehicles to get the Comptroller or anywhere else unless they put an audible aspect on that.  The auto manufacturers need to know that.  We have hundreds of buses now that can operate electrically.  Hybrid and electric vehicles need to have an audible aspect.  Thank you.

    

COMPTROLLER THOMPSON:  That's a great point.  We will make that point quickly.  I'm going to be able to do, let's say, two more, if we could.

 

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Okay, I have a two part.  I'm sorry.  DRIE -- you cannot go from DRIE to SCRIE at age 62.  I'm locked out.  There's no parity.  That's number one.  My main complaint is noise.

This is brought up.  We talked about audible things – these high-pitched sounds are not what we need.  I'm doing a lot of work with my community board to say hey, we've have to get rid of these sirens.  We've have to start telling these guys who honk their horns.  Have to find them.  That's where we're going to get the money to pay for the sirens.  I'm doing a lot of work on this.  The people with disabilities do not have the pain that I get walking around with this to cover my ears.  I can't even walk in the street anymore.  Some people have seizures too.

 

There's a person -- I don't know if she's here today.  We need the sound, but we need them to come at a pitch that's not so high-pitched.

    

MR. CARTER-LONG:  Thank you.  Out here in the front of the room. I’ll get to you.  Excuse me.

 

ELAINE WINSLOW: Thank you.  I'm Elaine Winslow.  I'm with Career Direction at Long Island University.  I'm thrilled to be here.  And everyone's comments -- but I also want to point out that seeing as I am from the university, my view of people with disabilities is so very different, because I see such well accomplished and talented people with all kinds of disabilities that are doing wonderful, wonderful work.  Some of the people here in this room, and I think sometimes we forget to acknowledge those people.  I think that's changing more now, with our governor.  But I think we need to take a little more time sometimes and acknowledge the wonderful successes that are among this population.

   

MR. CARTER-LONG:  Thank you.  Can we do one more?  There's an individual who's had his hand up on the other side of the room.

  

COMPTROLLER THOMPSON:  And by the way, there are a couple of people from my office who are here.  Identify yourselves.  And just --and they'll be here after I'm gone. So if you'd like to speak to them also.

  

MR. CARTER-LONG:  And if people have further questions after the meeting, they can get to me.

 

DAN WINCHESTER: My name is Dan Winchester.   I don't know whether it's the purview of the Comptroller or not, but microlending – to pay for equipment or to [inaudible].  Will not pay for or cover -- at the state level.  Equipment loan bank [(inaudible].

     

COMPTROLLER THOMPSON:  When it comes to microlending and, to be honest about it -- we're looking -- I've been trying to figure out how we can do -- we're trying to invest -- and again, underline the word invest -- some dollars in microlending.  There are a couple of venues that we have looked at, that didn't work, because of the return --just didn't fit our guidelines.  But there are a couple that do.  And one of the things that we could do as we have those conservations --you talk about making sure that that microlending is targeted to individuals with disabilities.  That's a great idea.

 

So, I mean, we're looking at it right now.  Working with a couple of non-profits that are in the microlending field and business-- we're talking about trying to do an investment there.  I'd be happy to try and, you know -- now, on the state level --

     

MR. WINCHESTER: I'd like to be a source of input into that process.

     

MR. CARTER-LONG:  Thank you.

     

COMPTROLLER THOMPSON:  Could we have one question from the Deaf community?

     

MR. CARTER-LONG:  Last question.

     

COMPTROLLER THOMPSON:  I'm not trying to eliminate anybody.  I have to be someplace also.  My apologies.

     

MARGARET ARNOLD: My name is Margaret.  And I just need to make a comment that disability housing, supportive housing, is really not accessible by the Deaf community.  Housing does not include flashing light alarms.  They don't have other visual systems to replace the typical intercoms or fire alarms or carbon monoxide alerts.

    

So I'm wondering what you can do to really kind of get that advocacy going along.  Because it's been many, many years since we've had any kind of assistance or help in that matter.

   

COMPTROLLER THOMPSON:  That should be -- that shouldn't be that difficult for us to reach out to both the agencies as well as to some of the developers who are involved in that construction, to make that point.

    

It isn't -- we will do that. as I said, those are commonsense things.  Flashing light strobes, to be able, for those who need them-- other things that make sense, in that regard.  We'd be happy to work along with you and work along with the Network to get that information out to the developers as well as the City agencies.  That is not difficult.  So we would be happy to be helpful.  Again, let me thank all of you for listening to me, for sharing, but also for helping me.  This is for us to be able to learn from you, work along with you as an advocate, but also to find out where government is dropping the ball, so we can in fact do things better.  Thank you very much.

 

MR. CARTER-LONG:  Thank you, and on behalf of the Disabilities Network, our Board of Directors, all our Members, and the 70 organizations, we thank you for your time and attention to these issues.  We've already had meetings about the housing crisis.  We’ll continue to be in contact and working forward on these problems.  Thank you.

 

7

line
» We depend on our members' support.

PLEASE JOIN NOW!


line
» Take Our Survey!

line

mail iconTell a friend about us