City Council passes Queens lawmaker’s bills to improve accessibility, employment opportunities for disability community

Queens disability accessibility
Council member Linda Lee. (Courtesy of Lee’s office)

The City Council on Wednesday, Dec. 21, passed two bills by Councilwoman Linda Lee to improve accessibility across city agencies and to advance employment opportunities for New York City’s disability community. 

The first bill, Int. 681, will require the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD), the Mayor’s Office of Talent and Workforce Development (NYC Talent), and the Department for Small Business Services (SBS) to create a workforce development program that expands upon the existing NYC: ATWORK employment program which recruits, pre-screens, and connects New Yorkers with disabilities to jobs and internships with established business partners in both the public and private sectors. 

This bill will not only create an accessible online portal to connect individuals with employers, but will also include guidance on writing resumes and cover letters, navigating interviews, and communicating with employers about the terms and conditions of employment to provide support during and after the job-seeking process.

The second bill, Int. 682, will require MOPD to consult with each city agency to develop and implement a five-year accessibility plan on how it will improve accessibility to its workplace, services, and programs. 

These accessibility plans will also include information regarding ongoing and planned projects such as information related to structural changes to agency facilities, upgrades and investments in tools and technology that widen accessibility, and any other plans to improve compliance with federal, state, and local disability laws. 

The legislation ensures public comment periods and interim reporting on progress until the final deadline for submission of the plans. The legislation will also invite the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to develop and submit a plan in light of a 2022 class action settlement that made further investments in the Capital Plan and promised to add elevators or ramps to 95% of currently inaccessible stations by 2055.

As a former social worker and now chair of the Council’s Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities and Addictions, Lee said she has seen how the pandemic disproportionately affected the nearly 1 million people in New York with disabilities who are disproportionately unemployed, underemployed and impoverished. 

“This legislation is about making good on the promise of equal access for all New Yorkers and strengthening our city’s workforce to achieve a full and equitable economic recovery,” Lee said. “Crafting and fine-tuning this legislation would have been impossible without the many advocates of New York City’s disability community.”

The Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities  is the liaison between the New York City government and the disability community. In partnership with all city offices and agencies, MOPD consistently ensures that the rights and concerns of the disability community are included in all city initiatives and that city programs and policies address the needs of people with disabilities.

When compared to other New Yorkers, New Yorkers with disabilities have higher rates of unemployment and underemployment, according to the Center for an Urban Future. Nearly 1 million New Yorkers are living with a disability, yet in 2021 nearly 17% of those of working age with a disability were unemployed—up from 7.4%  in 2019. This unemployment rate persisted for much of the past two years, even as the unemployment rate for New Yorkers without a disability has fallen sharply since the summer of 2020.