July 27, 2021
Commissioner Victor Calise, Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities: Hello, everyone. How are you tonight?
That’s it? You’ve been locked up for over a year and that’s all you got?
Welcome everyone to ADA 31 and the Sapolin Awards. It’s a pleasure to have each and every one of you here tonight. It’s a smaller venue than we’re used to, but we’re here to celebrate. Oh, and I think I have someone. Weren’t you supposed to wait for me?
Mayor Bill de Blasio: You just – you didn’t go to rehearsal. Did you? We had a whole rehearsal. Everyone was there. Where were you?
Commissioner Calise: Don’t make me get up.
Mayor: Take your time. Take your time, say whatever you want to say.
Commissioner Calise: [Inaudible] grayer than me. Right? He wants to have long hair, but –
Mayor: Wait, did you say grayer?
Commissioner Calise: Yes. Right, color of the hair.
Mayor: You know, I just want to say ever since you – your hair grew longer and you stopped wearing a tie, have you noticed, have you noticed the Commissioner’s kind of losing that official vibe lately? Yeah. He’s getting a little loose, isn’t he? Okay. You have a tie. Okay. I feel a lot better now. I feel better that you actually have a tie.
Commissioner Calise: But it’s the end of the administration so I can –
Mayor: But we’re still here working for the people.
Commissioner Calise: Ah. So, the people are important and today is the ADA Sapolin Awards. We’re so honored to have each and every one of you, especially to awardees tonight. I’m going to have the privilege of introducing someone that helped us get through the pandemic with a steady hand and allowed people with disabilities to be represented in everything the city has to offer, our mayor, Bill de Blasio.
Mayor: Thank you. Well, you don’t get to leave. I have to say things about you. I want to say things about you.
Commissioner Calise: So, do you notice my podium is exactly like yours?
Mayor: Okay, so you – okay. Victor Calise, at this point has become mayor of New York City. I think it’s quite clear. Let’s congratulate him. He got own podium, the whole thing. Victor, I really want to say this everyone, for eight years now – and we’ve, a lot of us have been together on different occasions. I’ve marveled at what Victor has done. I’ve truly marveled because he brings something beautiful, which has an activist spirit into government to make government work for people, for people.
And I, we all, and let me, let me do a show of hands. How many people have had to deal with government bureaucracies and had a bad experience? Bad experience? Bad experience? Bad experience? Okay. I think that’s about 100 percent of the people, Victor.
Commissioner Calise: And they’re actually people in government that raised their hands.
Mayor: Yes. I noticed. The government was well-represented in the poll about the government. But the reason I asked that question is it’s not supposed to be that way, right? You’re supposed to when you encounter your government, it is supposed to be a place to turn for help, for understanding, for solutions. And that is not always the case, but what Victor has established is the notion that government can actually kick down the door, get something done, cut the red tape, be creative, be open, be informative, be inclusive. That is what he has done. And I think this has been an amazing body of work by this great man. Let’s thank him for everything he has done.
Commissioner Calise: Just to let you know. I was the last person to be appointed and I heard the dog catcher was before I was, did I say that out loud?
Mayor: We don’t have a dog catcher. That’s just a horrible rumor. We don’t have that. So, first of all, everyone happy Disability Pride. We gather together in pride and enjoy to be together. And the continued fight to make New York City someplace for absolutely everyone. A lot of people here have contributed. The honorees, of course, but I want to also thank everyone in my administration, the members of my administration here, Deputy Mayor Phil Thompson, and so many heads of agencies and folks who have felt it a privilege and crucial to work with Victor and his whole team, to keep ensuring that people with disabilities can live a better life in New York City. So, thank you to all the members of my administration. Thank you to our partners in government, in different government agencies, and the elected officials who are here. Thank you very much for being such strong advocates.
And I know the awardees are each going to have their moment, but I want you to join me in some early rousing applause for the awardees tonight. Transitional Services for New York.
The Central Park Conservancy.
And they’re all great, but I’ve a special favor tonight because she is celebrating her 90th birthday with us, Ms. Carr Massi.
So, 31 years since the Americans With Disabilities Act was passed. I’m sure some of you here can say what I can say. I know Victor can too, for all of us who got to know Tom Harkin over the years, a righteous warrior for good and someone who believed that something could happen that I know a lot of his colleagues didn’t understand. I know some of them thought they weren’t ready. But he used sheer force of will and faith and belief to show the entire United States of America it was time to make a change. And if you spend time with Tom, it reminds you anything’s possible. And so, when we celebrate each year, to me it is a reminder to aim higher and a reminder to not say no. In this city, I remember when we talked about the idea that we could truly have accessible taxis and for-hire vehicles. I remember the naysayers who said it was too difficult. It was too expensive. It would take too long. If we listened to them, we would have gotten nowhere. But New York City now is an example to this whole nation of what accessible transportation needs to be with those taxis. And we are proud of that.
If you go on NYC Ferry, one of the newest contributions to getting around New York City, NYC Ferry is accessible, the way it needs to be. It could be done. Every time they say it can’t be done, the answer in fact is it can be. There is always a way. And now I know we have our colleagues here from the MTA and I know they do good work and I just wanted to help them to raise the bar. So, I sent them Victor Calise, just to be a little helpful conscience.
Anytime they might’ve thought, aim a little lower, Victor’s like no, aim a little higher. And because Victor is there more is happening. More is happening and more can happen. And thank you, let’s always give our thank you’s. Thank you, Nancy Pelosi. Thank you, Chuck Schumer. Thank you, Joe Biden for sending us the resources to make our subways more accessible.
And one more point I want to raise. There aren’t a lot of other rights if you can’t afford to live here. Right? We can talk about how great this place is, how much we love it. But if you can’t afford to live here, doesn’t do a lot for you. And so one of the things we focused on is building and preserving affordable housing. And here’s another lesson that when they tell you it can’t be done, it can. Beginning of the administration we said we would build or preserve 200,000 apartments, 200,000, enough for almost 700,000 New Yorkers. And many, many people said it was impossible. One person who was highly respected said to me privately, Bill that is this close to insane that you could ever reach that goal in eight years. As of today, we have built or preserved 194,000 apartments, and we will have 200,000 by the time this year is done.
And with a preference for New Yorkers with disabilities to make sure people can live in New York City.
So once again, when they say it can’t be done, it can be done. It just takes more work, more activism, more energy, more working together, and more opportunities to set the bar higher. Now, I want to do that right now because when it comes to the work of serving the community, the governing document goes back to 1990, an executive order and it’s a good executive order. It started this office, but it needs to be updated. It needs to be supercharged. We got to give this office the full strength it needs. We got to codify this month as Disability Pride Month. We’ve got to make sure that from this point forward, whoever leads the office is known as commissioner, because that is a title of great respect and influence, Victor Calise.
Commissioner Calise: And thank you for that by the way.
Mayor: Well, you wear it well. Even with your new extravagant long hair.
Commissioner Calise: It’s not a midlife crisis. My wife told me to wear it this way.
Mayor: Anyone who says it’s not a midlife crisis. Okay. It is a midlife crisis, but that’s okay. You do wear it well. You wear it well. Tonight, I’m going to sign Executive Order 73, updating and further empowering and modernizing and supporting the Mayor’s Office For People With Disabilities.
I’m not going to do one of those Donald Trump things where he admires his own signature. I’m just going to tell you I signed it. Victor, isn’t it lovely?
Commissioner Calise: That it is, that it is.
Mayor: Okay. I’ll show it to you. Okay.
Commissioner Calise: And did you spell it right?
Mayor: Everybody, I’ll finish with this point. We all are in the midst of fighting back COVID one more time. It is a prolonged situation. We all wish it was over. It will be. We’re just going to have to fight a little bit harder. But look how far we’ve come. I want to say a profound thank you to everyone because it took all of us together to overcome the worst of COVID. A little more to do, but we will get there. The bottom line is we need to focus on recovery. We need to focus on a recovery for all of us. I love New York City, but I don’t want to go back to pre-COVID New York City. I want to create with you, a fairer and better New York City. A New York City for all of us.
And we can do it. We’ve proven. We’ve proven we can take on extraordinary challenges and prevail. So, everyone you ever feel a little tired, you ever feel a little worn down, just look around you. Look around at the great people here tonight. Look around at people who have fought every good battle and won so many times. Keep the faith, believe that we will keep moving forward. There is no stopping this community and there is no stopping New York City. Thank you everybody.
Deputy Mayor Phillip J. Thompson, Strategic Policy Initiatives: Good evening. So, I want to say a couple of things. One, people with disabilities are the biggest minority in New York City and maybe the most important minority in New York City, because there’s barely a family in the city that doesn’t really have to deal with – you know what, somebody in my family can’t ride on the subway because it’s inaccessible, you know? And going down three stops to find, you know, an assessable subway is just not real. It’s something that touches everybody. I was raised by a woman who raised me when my dad died when I was seven. My mother became disabled when I was nine. And, you know, she raised me, and I think she did a pretty good job, you know? And people with disabilities can do anything, really. You just have to, like, not put obstacles in their way, you know, and think a little bit. And when you look at what the advocacy around peoples with disabilities have done for other people – you know, when I see these curb cuts that people with disabilities fought for, 99 percent of the people who use the curb cuts aren’t people in wheelchairs, they’re people pulling heavy luggage. They all benefit from those curb cuts, right?
So, when we think about and stand up for people with disabilities, we are really helping everybody, you know? [Inaudible] this is a cause worth fighting for, and Victor Calise fights for it. He keeps everybody on their toes, as the Mayor said. And, in that vein, let me just say, what the Mayor just did about making this office, you know, an official office is empowerment. That means it’s here to stay. That means the issue’s not going away. And so, I want to thank the Mayor, but a lot of credit goes to this man right here.
Last thing I want to say is, I have never had a meeting with Victor in which we didn’t laugh through – next to the last thing I want to say – I’ve never had a meeting with Victor in which we didn’t laugh through half the meeting. And meeting with his team is actually always fun. And Victor makes it fun. You know, we can fight for justice and also laugh while we’re doing it, right? And Victor has shown us, you know, how to do that. One other person I want to shout out is John Farmer, the head of our chief technology office. He’s in the back. I’m calling him out because there was an announcement today – you know, New York City, with John’s leadership, and support of the Mayor is expanding broadband access, affordable, to hundreds of thousands of people across this city. And, as everyone knows, when you don’t have access to broadband and when you’re, you know, a person with disabilities, it’s hard to get around, being able to get online is actually critical. You get a job online or work online. It’s actually critical for your wellbeing and survival. John Farmer understood that, he pushed for that. Victor understood that, he pushed for that. And that’s another thing I just want us all to celebrate together that, you know, we are making New York City more accessible, more open for everybody. So, thank you very much.
Commissioner Calise: All right, everyone. Well, happy birthday, ADA. Thank you, Robert Hammond, the Highline staff for making this happen tonight. It’s great to be in this facility. We appreciate all that you have done tonight. Thank you, Deputy Mayor Thompson for giving us autonomy and having us guide the city to be more accessible for people with disabilities. And I’m grateful for your leadership. I want to take this moment to thank the Mayor’s Office with People with Disabilities staff. Can you please raise your hand, staff members?
We have been together for over nine years, and those nine years have been rough, and those nine years have been fun, and I’ve challenged them every step of the way, and they’ve delivered on every step of the way. And they haven’t at any one point said, no. I pushed for bigger programs, they gave me bigger programs. I pushed for bigger ideas, they gave me bigger ideas. Every step of the way they were there and I’m not sure what I will ever do without them. And I want to thank them for all the hard work. Please continue whatever role you’re in next. And remember me as you move forward and become great things. Thank you, staff.
One thing I’ve realized when I’ve had – since I’ve had kids, is how much I actually learn from them. I’ve got my daughter Sophia, over there in the yellow dress somewhere. My daughter, Lola. And boy, want to talk about challenging people? Yeah. If anybody as teenage daughters, you know what I’m talking about. But they’ve been great, and I’ve learned a lot, and I continue to learn a lot, and I wait to see them grow into beautiful women, powerful women that get things done. And a lot of that they learned from their mother. My wife, Susan, over there. Raise your hand.
She has certainly been amazing. And what’s been interesting is the COVID time, right? Yeah. People, you can start laughing about the COVID time. It’s okay. Being with your partner for all that long, and then realizing that, you know, when the shade falls in the house, how horrible that is because you have to have someone come in the house and actually fix it. But we were together during that time and I’ve gotten to know her in a different way. And I kind of miss some of the times that we’ve spent together, now that we’re the city is coming back and we’re moving forward. But I want to say thank you, Susan, for your partnership. And I look forward to more years.
Thank you for the Mayor’s Office of Special Events for actually putting this event together at the last minute. It literally was the last minute and everyone got their invitations at the last minute, but we were able to pull it together. So, thank you. And I think another group of people that I have to thank – is important to me. Some of you have may have known – or will know now – that before my injury, I was a blue-collar worker. I come from a big blue-collar family, and that family has really shaped me into the person I am today. And after I was injured, I’m no longer a blue-collar worker, but I aspire to be. But the people that actually put this event together tonight, the DCAS team led by [inaudible] and the sound by Mike Maisano, and all the staff that [inaudible] here tonight, they’re extraordinary. They came in and said, Victor, we’re going to put this together. Those blue-collar workers have saved us for so many things and I want to thank the DCAS team. So, please, thank them with me.
And, tonight, we have Contento here – disability owned, disability run restaurant. That’s right, they are catering our event tonight and we’re so honored to have them here. Go check them out. A little plug – East Side, 111th Street between Madison and Park. Go check them out, great restaurant. And fully accessible, by the way. And people with disabilities can sit at the bar.
Right? Yeah. So, this is our last Sapolin awards in this administration. And it’s been a tough 16 months, but I am so glad to be back in-person. And we’ve moved to make sure that we’ve included people with disabilities in all our responses. In our meetings, all our virtual meetings are accessible for people with disabilities. We sent out tons of protective equipment – and if you still need some, we have it, let us know. Food insecurity – we made sure that people with disabilities were represented in that. Transportation of working with our Access-A-Ride partners in making sure that we had safe rides to and from appointments, making sure that people that had COVID had the right ride. So, thank you Craig Cipriano and the team at – there you go, Craig, thank you – [inaudible] and Don, as well, for all the work that they did and making that happen. We’ve made our maps accessible so people can get to where they wanted to. Our vaccine finders, our websites, you name it – we were doing everything we could, because we knew people with disabilities needed to be represented in everything the city had to do during these COVID response.
Now, our office has accomplished many things and I guess this is my last run at telling you exactly what we’ve accomplished. Prior to me coming to the Mayor’s Office, I was the Disability Service Facilitator at the Parks Department, and we worked to make parks accessible. And if I look at what Parks Department has done in their design and construction, and there’s codes and standards that are out now, they go above the ADA in everything they have to offer. We’re looking at their programs, their beaches, their parks, their playgrounds, their recreation centers, extraordinary things to make sure that our public spaces are accessible for people with disabilities. We look at waterfront property – there is nothing that is being built today that does not come through the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities – and we look at that waterfront property, we ensure accessibility goes over and beyond ADA codes and standards. When we’re talking about ways for flood mitigation for our city, we’re ensuring that anything that’s being built, any walls, any burns that are being built, that they’re accessible for people with disabilities. We’ve made sure that we’ve identified disabled-owned businesses and they are getting contracts with the City. The Mayor talked about our taxis – that wasn’t just fought by the City, that was fought by advocates. It was a long fight and we finally got it. And we need to get it better and we need to make it better in every step of the way, making sure that everyone’s included and could ride those taxis. I’ll never forget the fight on the inside. I’ll never forget the fight on the outside. But we learned from that and when we had to make the for-hire vehicle sector – those ride sharing companies accessible, we used every City lever that we could. And that was making sure that any new vehicles that come on the street are only wheelchair accessible vehicles, which has amounted to thousands accessible vehicles on the street. We have our NYC At Work program, public-private partnership to employ people with disabilities, extraordinary work. And we’ve had many partners that have been able to do that. And they are here tonight and we thank them for their assistance.
Just to give you a little overview, we connected 2,300 individuals to support services. Over 12,000 of them are currently enrolled in our NYC at Work program. We’ve connected 400 people with disabilities to jobs – real jobs with real pay and real benefits. The average salary is over $50,000 – that’s extraordinary. That’s the type of work that our NYC at Work team does, I’m proud to have them. And please continue to push things forward.
Our digital accessibility ran by [inaudible] have done some amazing things to make sure websites are accessible, to make our content is accessible from social media to apps, and we continue to do that. Extraordinary things, and we only get better as we go along. I want to talk about our text to 9-1-1. We finally implemented a text to 9-1-1 system, so people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing people with speech disabilities, and people in domestic violence now have access to that service with over 21,000 texts today. And as we look at next generation 9-1-1, we will include even more. We work with the Shubert Theatre and Paul D’Antonio to make sure that we are adding on time captioning and audio description in Schubert Theatres, great things to be able to happen. We’ve added American sign language direct, and people who are deaf can actually get City services and get a live interpreter. No other city has done that the way we have. We have are finding ways to tackle the digital divide as we did with – as John Farmer, and what he’s been putting together with – excuse me, I’m getting a little parched up here – with his release today in making sure people have access to the internet, making sure we can get computers to people who go come through our NYC at Work program. When we switched to virtual meetings, we put out guidelines so people with disabilities can understand that. And accessible schools, we’ve done a lot. Schools were not built with people with disabilities in mind, but we’ve connected and donated – not donated, actually allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to schools. And school accessibility, which is related to online places where people can find out what schools are accessible, the level of accessibility. And a kid with a disability now has a choice to go to any accessible school of their choice as long as they meet those requirements. Those are extraordinary things. That’s the power of MOPD. And I’m so glad of our office.
And none of this was done in a bubble. We consulted people with disabilities along the way, advocates for children, independent living centers in everything that we can do. So, I am grateful for the challenge that all of you and advocates have put forward to me, because it made me better. And one of those people that made me better was the great Edith Prentice. Edith Prentice was the best. She passed away, for those of you who may not know. She was balanced. She found a way to humiliate me just enough to know how to get things done. She worked with me. She pointed me in the right direction. She included me and made sure that I included the voice of people with disabilities every step of the way. And nobody was as good as her. And I miss her dearly. And her legacy needs to live on in each and every one of us. And I challenge advocates here tonight to challenge your inner Edith, right? We have done so much to set up New York so we can work side by side with each and every one of you. Some of that example is working with Council members and working with Council Member Helen Rosenthal. And she put forward many bills – and she’s here tonight, right?
To represent people with disabilities, disability service facilitators, meeting guidelines, loop systems within the City of New York – extraordinary things. And when I’m talking about pushing things forward, we have a new group of Council members coming in, right? And we need to be able to work with those Council members and affect those Council members now as they decide that they’re going to take office and make sure that disability representation is there, because policy is the way to get things done, making sure that you push the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, making sure that you push agencies to do that. I challenge you to make sure you work with the next administration and move things forward. We’ve given advocates a roadmap, and that’s Accessible NYC. And that Accessible NYC was codified today, and every Mayor’s Office [inaudible] will have to move that forward. And that roadmap should – should certainly push the next administration forward to hold them accountable, just like you did. The reason we put Accessible NYC together is because you challenged us. We needed to show what we were doing in the City of New York that truly represented people with disabilities.
I’m going to end there tonight, but last thing I want to say is that we can make New York City the most accessible city in the world. That’s what we’ve been doing for the last nine years. And we can do that because we’re New Yorkers and we get things done. Thank you.
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