New York City, Oct. 26 – Responding today to a questionnaire by the disability advocacy group RespectAbility, Robert Jackson, longtime former City Council Member who is running for New York State Senate District 31, 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 Jackson’s opponent, first-term incumbent Marisol Alcantara, 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 Jackson’s 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: As Community School Board President, I sued the state to fix a broken school funding formula that was cheating our children – particularly children of color, disabled and English language learners – and we won a court judgment that brought home $16 billion for the 1.1 million NYC public school children. As Chair of the City Council Education Committee, fought long and hard for children with special needs to get the services, resources, and education they deserve, including ASL students whose parents wanted siblings to attend the same school to facilitate communication at home; and advocated for the safe bus transportation of preschool children receiving special needs services. Since I left the Council, I’ve worked with the Dyslexia Task Force to make sure every child has the opportunity to reach their full potential. I will continue this commitment and these fights in the State Senate.
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: My plan is to work with you and other advocates to reduce the unacceptably high unemployment rate among working-age persons with disabilities in New York. This plan should include early training and subsidized intern programs to help disabled people become part of the workforce when they are young and can build experience and credentials; a program in which government reimburses employers for all or a portion of a worker with disabilities wages to help persons with disabilities enter or re-enter the labor force and bolster their credentials; a disabled worker tax credit which would enable workers with disabilities to offset the additional costs associated with their disabilities; and improving transportation options so disabled persons can get to work.
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: Throughout my life, I’ve worked to knock down barriers, increase opportunities for all and promote fairness, equality and justice. In my own family, I’ve seen the difference just a little help can make. My brother-in-law is legally blind. Living in Tanzania, he was getting no help and had no opportunity. So we brought him to New York to live with us. We helped put him through school and helped him navigate his new home, including the subway system. Now he is working as a social worker and running marathons. With a little help – the kind he wasn’t getting in Tanzania – it has allowed him to grow and succeed and reinforced the importance of what you do every day.
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: I intimately understand the destructive power of discrimination, and take the commitment to eradicate it everywhere and for everyone personally. As I did on the City Council, I will listen, strategize, consult and work with advocates in the disabilities community not only on their legislative agenda and priorities, but also to combat hate and prejudice.
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: I will do as I have done – work to make sure our government works for all of us. I have always seen my job as an elected official is to speak up for those not being heard by government. In the City Council, we always had disabled persons working in our office. I look forward to continuing to be a strong advocate as State Senator.