People with Disabilities

With people with disabilities representing a tiny minority in public office, others who may want to run are hard-pressed to find help in this arena. However, one non-profit, the National Council on Independent Living, prides itself on being one of the only resources for people with disabilities to get answers to their tough campaign questions. It recently launched the nonpartisan Elevate Campaign Training program, which specifically caters to people with disabilities who are interested in pursuing public service positions. This new online-only initiative offers webinars so people all over the country can watch and learn about topics as diverse as fundraising, campaign online strategy, operations, and messaging.

With an estimated market value of over 30 billion dollars, assistive technology is gaining traction among entrepreneurs and startups all over the world. Take the wheelchair that goes up stairs made by Scewo, whose fans are eagerly awaiting its late 2019 rollout. Or the Swiss-made MyoSuit, a robotic exomuscle suit that helps support movement and provide stability to people who may have trouble going up stairs or getting out of chairs. The Young Guru Academy in Turkey is keen to help visually impaired people with their WeWalk stick, which warns users about obstacles above chest height and can be integrated with a voice assistant and Google Maps. It’s a growing market, and more and more people are realizing how important it is for people with disabilities to live normal lives.  

The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk is the primary sponsor of a new local initiative intended to help the parents of special needs children. Many of the top attractions in Fairfield County have made efforts to accommodate children with disabilities, but the parents of those children are often unsure how to find out if the attraction caters to their specific needs. “Accessibility For All,” as the initiative is called, is intended to make the relevant information easily accessible for parents. To accomplish this, they added a role of “Accessibility Coordinator” at each attraction, an individual who will always know what accommodations are available. They also created a website where parents can go to find all the accessibility information for each attraction in one place online.

Much of the NYC subway stations are inaccessible to people with disabilities, a situation that has resulted in multiple lawsuits against the MTA. Services like Access-A-Ride exist to help bridge the gap in public transportation options for people with limited mobility, and riders are charged what they would pay for a ride on the subway: $2.75. However, the MTA is considering a fare hike of $.25 per ride, which would no doubt impact people with disabilities more than the average New Yorker, given that they often live on fixed incomes. The disability community is split on whether the fare hike should extend to services like Access-A-Ride: many feel they should not be treated differently from anyone else, but others are concerned with the financial impact on a vulnerable group.

Philadelphia has a lot going for it: reasonable cost of living, plentiful restaurants and bars, and historic charm, to name a few of its better qualities. However, it is not generally considered an incredibly accessible city. Saron McKee, the city's new director of ADA compliance, aims to change all that. As someone who uses a wheelchair to get around she has firsthand experience with the frustration of navigating a city that is less than fully accessible. Starting with a $300,000 budget, her department will partner with MIlligan & Company to assess the accessibility of 500 structures over the next three years. The city has high hopes for McKee’s success, and her almost 20-year track record of helping people with disabilities will well serve her in this new role. 

South Beach Jazz Festival founder R. David New was sick of the stigma surrounding people with disabilities, especially in the performing arts, so he decided to do something about it. Thus, the South Beach Jazz Festival was born. All groups must have at least one person with a direct relationship with a disability, be it physical, mental, or even an illness. This is the third year of the festival, whose talented performers this year include a blind pianist and a Dee Dee Bridgewater, a Grammy award-winning artist.  

Said New of his vision for the event: “Disabilities are such a challenge and struggle for so many people and I wanted for people to know that from those challenges beautiful music and talented individuals could evolve, bringing inspiration and enjoyment to others.

According to the charity Leonard Cheshire, over 1,000 railway stations in Britain––more than 40% of the total in existence––are inaccessible to people with disabilities. In addition to this shameful figure, even determining whether the station is accessible or not is hard, which makes planning traveling extremely frustrating for those with disabilities.

The lack of accessibility is also humiliating. One passenger, Dr. Hannah Barham-Brown, felt “worthless” when the assistance she had booked in anticipation of the station’s inaccessibility failed to arrive, effectively leaving her abandoned at the station without recourse.

Despite this, there is hope for improvement. A Department for Transport spokesman shared that “We are determined to make sure that our railways are accessible to everyone, which is why we have already invested to deliver accessible routes and step-free access at nearly 2,000 stations around the country.” Those improvements cannot come soon enough for the 11 million Britons living with a disability

Breda beat out 51 other cities other cities for this coveted award, such as Évreux, France, (which chose to focus on supporting invisible disabilities) and Gydnia, Poland, which was lauded for its efforts towards including people with intellectual disabilities. The Access City Award is an initiative of the EU’s Disability Strategy 2010-2020, the goal of which is a more inclusive Europe.

Breda’s public parks and stores are all accessible to those with disabilities, and accessible public transportation ensures everyone can get where they need to go. By promoting the award and Breda’s superlative efforts, the European Commission and the European Disability Forum hope to inspire cities across Europe to ramp up their accessibility efforts across the board.  

Results released from a recent study conducted by the journal Pediatrics revealed that autism could potentially affect 2.5% of children in the United States. This is significantly higher than the 1.7% estimated by the CDC using 2014 data. Thomas Frazier, chief science officer of the advocacy organization Autism Speaks attributes the discrepancy to "... methods that are a bit more liberal and inclusive than the CDC's methods…[but] they [CDC’s numbers] are likely a bit conservative."

Furthermore, the study in Pediatrics was based off of parent survey data, which, unlike the CDC report, is not validated by health and education records. Other discrepancies may be attributed to the ages of the children included in the report, their geographic location, and even the years the study was conducted. While the prevalence of autism has been rising for years, it will remain difficult to pinpoint an exact number of children affected, in part because autism is so difficult to diagnose. 

It’s illegal for taxi drivers to choose whom to transport, but that doesn’t stop them from avoiding picking up people with disabilities. Some cities offer subsidized trips for those with disabilities, but they require advance booking and take longer than a direct trip because of multiple passengers. Even ride-sharing services have had their share of growing pains, with lack of wheelchair accessible vehicles markedly increasing wait times.

In an effort to combat these concerns, Uber has rolled out a pilot partnership with MV Transportation called UberWAV that promises to make it easier (and as cost-efficient as UberX) for people with disabilities to hail an Uber. MV Transportation will provide the wheelchair accessible vehicles and Uber will connect drivers with passengers. The pilot program will be rolled out in Washington, DC, New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, and Toronto.

“It is very costly, but we recognize this is a thing where we can demonstrably transform the way that people have historically thought about transportation, a population of people for whom there have been huge barriers,” said Malcom Glenn, Uber’s head of global policy, accessibility and underserved communities.

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