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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Delivers Remarks at Mayor's Awards in Honor of The Americans with Disabilities Act Reception

August 19, 2014

Mayor de Blasio: Ok, this time it’s really me.

So, first I want to thank Tony Marx for hosting us, but I also want to thank him for what he just described to you. You know, last year I talked about something we have to overcome in this city – the tale of two cities. It takes many forms. There is a crisis of inequality we face on many fronts. And I have to say that the New York Public Library is in the front ranks addressing that crisis in so many meaningful ways. You just heard him list some of the ways that this is a place of inclusion, a place where inequality is addressed, and equality is fostered – and that’s worth a lot. Let’s thank Tony Marx for all he does.

[Applause]

I am so proud to join everyone tonight celebrating the 24th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is an extraordinary moment. It’s a victory we should respect and celebrate over and over again. And it’s also a chance to recognize people and businesses and institutions that take the spirit of the ADA, and put it into action every day in this city. I want to thank our commissioner, Victor Calise, who you’ll hear about – hear from, I should say, in a few moments for his incredible efforts on behalf of those with disabilities.

[Applause]

Who knew?

[Cheers]

[Applause]

I think it’s – I think it’s great that all of Victor’s family members are here tonight.

[Laughter]

Now Victor –

[Cheers] 

[Applause]

Victor, I’ve done some research – I believe they love you. Victor has done extraordinary things for this city. I wanted to just say also, he has a tremendous credential that I did not know about before. In addition to being a great and hardworking public servant, somehow he finds time for his athletic life as well. He was an Olympic athlete who competed in 1998 at the Nagano Olympics on the Paralympics Sled Hockey Team.

[Applause]

Now we know what he does in his spare time. Victor, thank you for your service to this city. I want to thank – we have some other great public servants here – one of the people that keeps us safe every day in New York City, our Commissioner for the Office of Emergency Management  Joe Esposito. Let’s thank him.

[Applause]

 

In the City Council, we have a lot of people who stand up for people with disabilities, and support progress for people with disabilities, and one of them is a councilman from the Bronx, Andy Cohen. Let’s thank him.

[Applause]

Every great event needs sponsors. Let’s thank the sponsors – Taxi Club Management, Anheuser-Busch, Curemark, Microsoft, and BNP Paribas. Let’s thank them all for helping make tonight possible.

[Applause]

Why are we all here with such energy, such enthusiasm? Because the ADA is one of the greatest civil rights laws passed in the history of the United States of America. And it has had a transformative effect on American society and there’s so much more to do, but this is a law that literally changed the way we think, the way we act. It’s a law that fully took life, and now it’s our job to go father. This was the world’s first civil rights bill for people with disabilities. Now, America was the trend setter for the whole world – and that’s something to be proud of, and that has sparked so much more around the world. I had the honor, a few months ago, of speaking with a hero – and it’s funny, you look at history, and some people just stand out, and Tom Harkan is one of the people who changed history for the better. And he said that the law would be, quote, “The 20th century’s Emancipation Proclamation for all Americans with disabilities” – and he was right.

ADA’s helped to create a more inclusive society. It’s helped people to live more independently. It’s helped us become a stronger city, a stronger nation, because everyone has a greater chance of inclusion. That is what defines, by the way, security. One of the definitions of security – one of the definitions of national security – is when everyone is included, and is strong and is unified, and the ADA has been an agent of that inclusion. That makes us stronger as a nation.

And we know what people had to deal with before the ADA. We know how difficult the physical challenges were. We know they still exist in many places, and we’re working every day to try and reduce them. But it used to be a commonplace that people couldn’t go where they needed to go, had insurmountable barriers placed in their path, and there was no sense that we had to do something about it, and the ADA – literally in just years – we saw such a radical change. We saw sideways with curb-cuts, and kneeling buses with ramps, and accessible seating in stadiums and theaters. And we saw a different mindset, that permeated all of our society – that permeated employment and media and all elements of society – and made it very clear it was not only illegal to discriminate – it was inappropriate, it was immoral to discriminate against people with disabilities. That’s a lot for one law to achieve.

[Applause]

We are, every day, building on the legacy of the ADA. We know it is ongoing work by definition. It’s such a profound statement and vision that, by definition, it’s required all these years to get as far as we’ve gotten, and we’re going to have to go farther and farther every year. This is work that doesn’t end, but I don’t say that as a negative. That’s an inspiration to us to dig deeper, go farther – because we know it’s the right mandate. We have to create a more inclusive city for the nearly one million New Yorkers who are people with disabilities, and that is part of the core mission of this administration.

Two weeks ago, I had the great honor of signing legislation extending rental assistance to even more New Yorkers with disabilities.

[Applause]

We raised the maximum income level for those eligible for the Disability Rent Increase Exemption, popularly known as DRIE. Now, at least 3,000 more individuals and families will have access to these benefits, and will be able to afford the housing they’re in.

[Applause]

This is another key element to our overall plan for affordable housing. In April – something I’m very proud of – we announced plans to make half of all New York City’s yellow cabs wheelchair-accessible by 2020.

[Applause]

Senator Harkin and I spoke at the time and he said ­­ – with real passion – that he knew this would be a difference-maker. And the biggest city in the country – an example to the country, to the world – acted. He said two things that he put in writing for us – because he wanted us to tell the world – he said in New York City, accessible taxis will mean an accessible, equal opportunity life for those with disabilities.

[Applause]

And he said – he said, New York City can now serve as a powerful model for other major cities that aspire to make their taxi fleets accessible. You know, there’s a song that says – I just heard it the other day – if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.

[Laughter]

Very catchy, don’t you think? So, when we prove how much more you can achieve for accessibility, it will inspire others to action.

And we have other priorities. We need safer streets for all New Yorkers. We need safer streets and more accessible streets for New Yorkers with disabilities. And all that is going to happen under the rubric of our Vision Zero plan that says we are going to protect all New Yorkers from the challenges that they’ve faced on our sidewalks, on our streets. It’s an inclusive plan. It’s a far-reaching plan.

And, as I mentioned, the affordable housing – I think one thing we can say about New Yorkers that unites us all – we’re all concerned about the cost of housing. It’s on our minds all the time. If you think the rent is too damn high, you are definitely a New Yorker.

[Laughter]

So, our plan over ten years – 200,000 units built or preserved over the next ten years, enough for half a million New Yorkers. And a lot of that plan is aimed at helping people with disabilities, because if you can handle the most expensive element of your life – housing – then all other things become possible.

So, we have partners all over the city who share this vision. This is such a powerful movement.  You never feel like you’re alone when you’re fighting for the rights of those with disabilities, because there’s so many activists, so many organizations fighting the fight, but there’s also many people who believe – so many companies that believe in doing the right thing, so many individuals, so many institutions – that want to do the right thing and are making it real, and that, tonight, is what we celebrate. We celebrate these wonderful people and organizations with the ADA Sapolin Award.

And this award named in honor of the late Matthew Sapolin – he was the first commissioner, the first ever commissioner –

[Applause]

– the first commissioner for the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities – a trailblazer, an extraordinary advocate who, despite blindness, made an impact for everyone in this city, and who served until his untimely death. And this award honors him and continues the spirit of his work. I want to congratulate all of tonight’s honorees.

[Single audience member applauds]

And they all deserve it. Give it to them! You’re going to have to give a lot of applause tonight!

[Applause]

And this is going to be a big year for all of us, because we have a year until the 25th anniversary of the ADA – that’s one of the big ones. So, we have to do some extraordinary things so we have a lot to celebrate on the 25th anniversary. And I look forward to working with each and every one of you on that path to a more just, inclusive New York City.

Now, I get to introduce – who’s obviously a rock star – Commissioner Calise. And Victor has provided nearly two decades of service to the community of people with disabilities. In the last two years as commissioner, he’s done extraordinary work improving access to cultural institutions, identifying wheelchair-friendly restaurants, helping the city to design more accessible parks and playgrounds and beaches. When he isn’t out there doing sled hockey, he is making this a better city for everyone. Victor Calise, ladies and gentlemen!

[Applause] 

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