It is estimated that 25 percent of American adults comprise the disability community. In New York State, 22 percent of adults are members of the disability community, and in New York City that percentage is approximately 11 percent.
In the 2020 presidential election cycle, candidates vying for the Democratic nomination are developing position papers and are speaking out about disability policies.
This is all for the good because despite the almost three decades existence of the ADA, the rights of and respect for individuals with cognitive, neurological and/or physical disabilities are still wanting.
The struggle, pain, frustration of an individual with disabilities going through their day-to-day endeavors is challenging and at times overwhelming.
State Senator Robert Jackson has introduced two bills in the state legislature that, if passed, would assist the disabled in a meaningful manner.
One bill provides for the state, through various commissioners (motor vehicle, health, mental health, development disabilities, alcoholism and substance abuse), to provide on a voluntary basis, a discrete notation indicating that an individual has a disability on state-issued identification cards.
This will enable people with disabilities to simply and respectfully indicate to a museum, movie theater, or other cultural institution manager that they are a member of New York’s disability community, which attaches to them certain rights and privileges without which that individual would be required to reveal their life story to a stranger in a public setting.
Jackson’s second proposed legislation would provide for discounted admission and membership to cultural institutions for disabled individuals in the following ways: (1) any entity (person, firm, partnership, corporation or association) which offers discounts on the price of admission or membership to seniors, students or veterans shall offer such discounts to disabled individuals; (2) the price of admission or membership for the disabled shall be equal to the lowest discount price; (3) such admission and membership information shall be “conspicuously” visible on the entity’s website, including its’ accessibility page, and at the box office.
It shall state whether the entity is utilizing a “pay as you wish” policy on admission or membership.
These provisions also provide free admission to the caregiver accompanying a disabled individual.
The proposed bills seek to remedy the message that the disabled do not have equal rights to other groups at certain cultural institutions in the city.
For example, there are 34 groups that make up New York City’s Cultural Institutions Group (CIG). The 34 private citywide institutions receive public operating and capital funds, yet there are no uniform policies.
More than half of the institutions provide admission discounts to seniors and students. A couple have no admission discounts. Two (Brooklyn Museum, Museum of Jewish Heritage) have discounts for seniors, students and disabled. Some have “pay as you wish” policies for state residents, a few have “suggested amounts,” some have free admission always or at certain times.
Unfortunately, there is a chance that the two bills will not pass in the state legislature. Therefore, we encourage cultural institutions to enact, on a voluntary basis, the following steps:
• Where a Cultural Institution provides for discounts to seniors, students and/or veterans, it should equally provide the same discount to the disabled.
• The discount policies should be conspicuously viewed on the website and at the box office. Transparency and the right to know require it.
One final observation: it would be more desirable if some of New York City’s cultural institutions were to voluntarily enact the suggested policies and show their respect for the disabled.
Some have already done that. Others should do likewise.
By enacting fair and equitable steps, voluntarily or by legislation, New York would ensure the rights of and respect for disabled individuals, would lead and be a role model for the rest of the United States.
Let’s make it happen.
Norman Siegel is a civil rights lawyer.