November 29, 2011
“It is with profound sadness that I announce the passing of my friend and advisor Matt Sapolin, who has led the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities for over nine years.
“New York City is the freest city in the freest country in the world because everyone has a voice here, including those who cannot physically speak. Matt was the perfect embodiment of so many essential New York traits – passionate about justice and tireless in his pursuit of equal access and opportunity for all New Yorkers. Matt is already deeply missed at City Hall, where he and his guide dog Downey were constant fixtures.
“Matt lost his sight at the age of five to bilateral retinoblastoma, a cancer that affects the optic nerve, and battled cancer ever since. After being educated in mainstream public schools, Matt earned his Bachelor of Arts and Masters of Public Health Administration at New York University, where he served as Co-Captain of the Varsity Wrestling team, and later became an Adjunct Professor at the City University of New York. He was profiled in Sports Illustrated as a high school athlete and throughout his life loved athletics and helping other New Yorkers with disabilities play sports. He played baseball with audio sensors in the bases and the ball and helped create the first Beep Baseball tournament in 2010 with the Parks Department. Matt also played drums, guitar and bass and was a fantastic chess player, in part because of his computer-like memory.
“From building the nation’s largest Disability Mentoring Day to chairing the new Building Code Accessibility Committee that mandated strong Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, Matt built the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities into a formidable force to assure that the rights and needs of people with disabilities are included in all City initiatives. He took the lead in making sure that the operators at 311 had the latest in accessibility technology for the disabled, worked with neighborhood business associations to create barrier-free shopping districts and helped lead the NYC2012 Paralympics process.
“Under Matt, the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities spearheaded legislation to provide a rent freeze to qualified disabled tenants, increase the number of wheelchair- accessible taxis in use, create the first accessible taxi base and require that all passenger ferries and ferry terminals be accessible.
“Matt also spearheaded the creation of the Inclusive Design Guidelines – an internationally-distributed blueprint for universal design and extend the use of audible pedestrian signals. He played a central role in making sure the National September 11 Memorial is accessible to everyone.
“Along with those of countless other New Yorkers, my thoughts and prayers are with Candra and their children Trevor and Toscany tonight. To honor his years of service to New Yorkers, flags at all City buildings will be lowered in Commissioner Sapolin’s honor.”