New York City, Oct. 26 – Responding today to a questionnaire by the disability advocacy group RespectAbility, Andrew Gounardes, who is running for New York State Senate District 22 in Brooklyn, outlined his views on education, employment and stigma for the 948,000 people with disabilities living in New York City. That includes people who are blind or deaf or have other visible conditions such as spinal cord injuries, as well as people with invisible disabilities including learning disabilities, mental health or Autism.
According to a recent survey, 74 percent of likely voters have a disability themselves or have a family member or a close friend with disabilities. The upcoming elections and their results will have an impact on people with disabilities, so it is important to become familiar with the candidates’ thoughts on certain issues.
“Candidates for office ignore the disability community at their peril,” said former U.S. Representative and Dallas Mayor Steve Bartlett. Bartlett, who was a primary author of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, is the chairman of RespectAbility.
RespectAbility reached out to Gounardes’ opponent, incumbent State Sen. Marty Golden, as well, but received no response, according to the organization’s President, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi.
RespectAbility is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates. The questionnaire is purely for educational purposes.
The full text of RespectAbility’s questions and Gounardes’ replies follows:
QUESTION 1: EDUCATION AND SKILLS: There are more than 12,938 students with disabilities enrolled in New York City’s public schools. Of that number, 9,189 are Latinx students with disabilities who face additional barriers such as language differences, inadequate resources, economic disparities and racial discrimination. What will you do to ensure that more and more students with disabilities of all backgrounds receive the skills, resources and opportunities they need to succeed?
ANSWER: Students with disabilities deserve access to world-class education opportunities in New York but less than 20% of our schools are properly accessible – even District 75 schools that are supposed to cater specifically for students with disabilities. That’s got to change and the first step is fully funding public schools, because our students need better resources, accessible buildings, and less-crowded classrooms.
I think it’s tragic that the City is short 744 pre-K seats for young children with disabilities. I plan to introduce a state constitutional amendment to ensure all children have a right to pre-K, and ensure funding to back it up.
Our schools have missed out on $62 million in funding, according to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. I will work hard to restore this funding and I’ll seek out opportunities to target much-needed funding towards students with disabilities and English-language learners, including addressing the specific challenges Latinix students with disabilities face.
I’m proud to be endorsed by the New York State United Teachers union. I’m committed to making sure Albany supports teachers, including making sure there’s enough culturally appropriate teacher education and training for disability education – giving teachers what they need to give all students the best possible education.
QUESTION 2: JOBS AND INDEPENDENCE: There are 455,186 working-age people with disabilities in New York City and only 150,074 have jobs. What is your plan to support more job opportunities for people with disabilities across the NYC metropolitan area?
ANSWER: In my experience, people with disabilities want to contribute to their families and the New York economy, and we should be doing more to make that happen. I was very disappointed to see that New York state has dropped to 40th in the nation for employment of people with disabilities. We need to look at why more employers aren’t taking up the Workers With Disabilities Tax Credit. We should consider extending this tax credit to part-time employees.
The State and City itself can lead by example by employing more people with disabilities. The City has the capacity to reserve 700 “55-a” positions for workers with disabilities but last year they left open 265 positions. I’ll do everything in my power to ensure all 700 positions are filled.
Additionally, we must take into consideration physical access to jobs. I believe in the ADA and in ensuring that all of our community’s businesses, schools, and community buildings are accessible to individuals with disabilities. New Yorkers with mobility issues deserve to be able to ride the subways to work as easily as everyone else, but in my district there are no properly accessible stations. My priority is to make every subway station accessible. We also need to improve Access-a-Ride for people who don’t live near subways. And I’m committed to expediting pedestrian ramp construction and addressing raised curbs and broken sidewalk ramps which put people’s safety at risk. As a member of the State Senate, I will hold all agencies accountable to comply with the ADA and commit to hold public hearings.
QUESTION 3: DISABILITY AND GENDER: Poverty, especially in major metropolises like New York, disproportionately impact women and girls, especially those of color. In total, there are 251,089 working-age women with disabilities living in New York City. Out of that number, 111,236 New York women living with disabilities have an income below the poverty level in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Likewise, in the City, only 29 percent of working-age African American women with disabilities and 24 percent of working-age Latina women with disabilities have jobs. What can you do as an elected official to raise their voice, provide them opportunities and empower them with a better future?
ANSWER: We need an economy in New York that works for everyone. I’m committed to being part of a State Senate that empowers women economically. Sadly, wages from some jobs are so low that work itself is no longer a path out of poverty, especially for women with disabilities. I will work to close the wage gap for women and people of color by requiring all publicly advertised job postings to include an expected salary rate or range, and requiring all public employers and large employers (initially, those with more than 500 employees) to track, report, and disclose pay gaps based on gender, race and other prescribed diversity characteristics, which could include disability.
I will push to give all working people the right to request flexible work arrangements, and prohibit employers from firing people who ask for them. I will combat sexual discrimination in the workplace by adding “sex and gender identity” to the list of classes protected from discrimination in the New York State Constitution. And I’ll support to increasing funding, subsidies, and tax credits for child care.
I want to see family caregivers made a protected class in law, so they can’t be discriminated against or fired for taking care of their family members with disabilities. For a full list of my commitments to women and families, see https://www.andrewgounardes.com/women/
QUESTION 4: FIGHTING PREJUDICE: Media representation of minority communities is crucial to reducing discrimination, bias and stigma in our broad culture. What will you do to leverage the power of media/entertainment to fight stigmas and empower New Yorkers with disabilities to work in entertainment, just like anyone else?
ANSWER: The way we see ourselves represented in the media and on screen impacts our identities. I will work with the film, tv, and theater industry in New York to encourage them to feature actors with disabilities on screen, on the stage, and behind the camera.
QUESTION 5: CIVIC ENGAGEMENT & EQUITY: People most directly affected by issues such as education, jobs, prejudice, homelessness, criminal justice, poverty and other issues deserves to have their voice, insights and experiences respected and utilized in finding and implementing solutions. People with disabilities are disproportionally impacted by these issues. As a public official, what will you do to ensure that New Yorkers with disabilities have “a seat at the table” for all major issues and can be part of solutions so that they and all others can have a better future?
ANSWER: It is important to me that all communities have a voice on my campaign and on my political team. My Field Director has a learning disability and my Deputy Campaign Manager previously worked on special education reform for the Department of Education. I entirely agree that we can’t solve problems unless we listen to the people affected by the problems. That’s why I have met with educators and leadership from a local school serving students with autism and spectrum disorders, and several local advocates for people with disabilities. As a member of the State Senate, I will designate a staff member to be a liaison to the disability community. We must do more to educate the disability community on their rights and support them in helping them navigate the bureaucracies which often are the main barrier to services and accommodations. I will work to ensure that my staff are readily accessible to educate local business, leaders and residents of our community. Building on that, I’ve also committed to holding “Senator on the Street” office hours to connect with people in our community, and to be available at a range of times to suit different schedules, including evenings and weekends. I’ll also host quarterly town halls and an annual “Community Convention” so people across our district can meet each other, share information, and learn about the different ideas, projects, and initiatives happening across our neighborhoods. I encourage the involvement of people with disabilities in the Community Conventions.