PULASKI, NY — It was less than 30 years ago when the Americans with Disabilities Act passed Congress and was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush. The law prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else. Since that time, many changes have been instituted and little by little, access and technology have improved making dramatic differences in people’s lives.
While positive changes have been made, there is always more that can be done to improve the quality of life for those living with disabilities. Raising awareness about the challenges people with disabilities face is important and sometimes, additional changes to the law are needed. A bill that I am proud to sponsor this year would assist in protecting accessibility. If enacted, the legislation will help ensure wheelchair access for handicap accessible vehicles in parking lots.
As most of us have noticed, some handicap parking spots in public lots feature an additional area next to them indicated by series of yellow or blue safety lines. This reserved area is known as an accessible aisle. It is designated parallel to the parking spot so that a wheelchair ramp or lift can safely extend from a handicap accessible vehicle onto the accessible aisle. It enables people in wheelchairs to get into and out of their vehicles. The legislation that I have drafted gives police the authority to ticket and, if necessary, tow vehicles that block or park in this aisle. Currently, there is confusion as to whether police have this authority. This bill would clarify that they do.
Advocacy was key to this bill. I introduced this legislation in response to people who were personally affected by vehicles that blocked the accessible aisle. Indeed, one person in my district called to explain that he had been held up at the grocery store for more than an hour due to a vehicle that was blocking the accessibility aisle. Police responded to the call but would not ticket or tow because there was confusion as to whether they had the authority to do so. Thanks to advocates’ constructive response to a frustrating situation, attention has been drawn to this issue and resulted in this bill that is gaining support in the Legislature. I remain hopeful that we can get it passed this year.
Incremental changes and building awareness over time have made tremendous differences for people with disabilities but additional advocacy is still needed. I am pleased that the NYS Assembly recognizes the value of education and outreach on behalf of those with disabilities and each year hosts the Legislative Disabilities Awareness Day in Albany. The day helps draw attention to available resources and highlights the accomplishments of persons with disabilities and I look forward to taking part in this awareness day again this year.
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