Civil Rights

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Helen, Council Member Mark Levine, and advocates speak about legislation for people with disabilities (August 13, 2015)

With the passage of three critical pieces of legislation that Helen introduced, no longer with anyone suffer the humiliation of getting to a public meeting and finding out there is no way to get in and, if they can get in, not being able to hear what is being said.

According to the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, 10% of New Yorkers have a disability. Helen wanted to make it easier for people with disabilities to access City services and attend events hosted by the City, so she introduced two bills that the Council passed and the Mayor signed into law. Local Law 27 of 2016 requires a qualified Disabilities Service Facilitator at every city agency to coordinate Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance and investigate complaints. Each agency will need to post the Facilitator’s name and contact information on their website, and the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities will post a full list of all agencies’ Facilitators. Local Law 28 of 2016 requires that all publicity materials for events hosted by the City include accessibility information, including a contact and deadline to make accessibility requests. These bills were enacted in June 2016.

Helen is committed to opening City Hall and city government to those with hearing loss. In March 2017, the Mayor signed into law Helen's bill Local Law 51 of 2017, which amends the New York city charter, in relation to requiring the installation of induction loops systems for capital projects funded by the city and requiring the publication of public locations where such systems are available. Hearing loop technology makes such a radical difference in the ability of so many to participate fully in public life, and I’m proud that as a City we have moved to make it not just a priority but a requirement in our public investments.

After reading about Kalief Browder, a young man accused of stealing a backpack, who was held at Rikers' Island for three years with no trial, Helen decided to shine a light onto who is being held at Rikers. 39% of the City's jail population at any given time are in jail because they cannot afford bail. Most are accused of nonviolent crimes, such as possession of marijuana or jumping a subway turn style, and due to backlogs in court hearings, New Yorkers who cannot afford bail may sit in jail for months or even years. Even relatively short stays in jail can wreak havoc on the lives of detained men and women, who may lose income from missing work, cannot care for their children or other family members, miss school, and can lose their place in a homeless shelter. The Council passed Helen's bill, Local Law 86 of 2015, which will require the Department of Corrections to issue quarterly reports with the demographics of who is being held in Rikers: how long they have been in jail, the severity of the alleged crime, whether bail was set, and if so, for how much. The reports are posted online and available to the public.

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