The attitude that disability is a natural part of life was fairly new in the 1970s. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was the first legislation to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities. This Act was limited, however, because it applied only to Federal programs and employment, as well as agencies receiving federal funding or contracts.
In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law. This broad legislation prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and governmental activities. The ADA also establishes requirements for telecommunications devices and services.
In the Olmstead Decision in 1999, the United States Supreme Court held – in Olmstead v. L.C. – that “recognition and unjustified institutional isolation of person with disabilities is a form of discrimination ...” Because of this, states may be required to provide community-based services rather than institutional placements for individuals with disabilities. This decision opened the door for people with disabilities fully integrating in the community.
Early Advocacy Successes
Even during its first few years of existence, ARISE was at the forefront of many issues affecting people with disabilities. Due in large part to the efforts of ARISE advocates, Syracuse was one of the first cities in the U.S. to have several accessible facilities and services … years before it was mandated by the ADA. Some other early advocacy victories resulted in:
- The City of Syracuse installing numerous curb cuts
- Accessible seating at the Carrier Dome
- Onondaga County’s “Homebound” transportation program
- Syracuse’s Home Access Program (accessibility ramps)
- The Sheriff’s Handicapped Ambulatory Parking enforcement (SHAPE) Program, which deputizes volunteers and empowers them to write parking tickets for people who violate accessible parking laws
- Syracuse being one of the first cities in the Northeastern U.S. to have accessible public transportation (1989)
- Constructing a Fitness Course for wheelchair users at Onondaga Lake Park
ARISE advocates also work with New York State Fair officials to continually improve accessibility at the Fairgrounds, which are located in Syracuse.
A Strong Tradition of Advocacy
ARISE’s history of advocating to ensure people of all abilities are granted equal access to all aspects of community living continues today. ARISE is part of the New York Association of Independent Living (NYAIL) and the Statewide Systems Advocacy Network (SSAN). NYAIL is a collaborative organization representing independent living centers throughout the New York. Our Syracuse office is an SSAN Center, and our Oswego office is an SSAN Support Site.
The following is a short list of victories that ARISE advocates, working with the SSAN, experienced in recent years. Many of these successes took years of effort from dedicated people throughout the SSAN.
- Advocating each year to restore/prevent proposed New York State budget cuts to Medicaid funded community-based services.
- Advocated for Timothy’s Law (passed 2006) which requires insurance companies to provide comparable insurance coverage for mental illnesses (“parity”) as the policies provide for other medical care. This will allow adults and children with biologically-based mental illnesses to receive the same health care coverage benefits as those provided for other physical ailments.
- Playing a crucial role in creating the Nursing Facility Transition and Diversion Waiver (2006), the Access to Homes program (2005), and other efforts to expand community based services.
- Pushing for MiCASSA legislation (passed in 2004), which shifts more federal funds from supporting institutional care to supporting home care and community-based services.
- Advocating to get the Most Integrated Setting Legislation signed into law (2003). This supports people living in “most integrated” settings rather than institutions and also created the Most Integrated Setting Coordinating Council.
- Advocated to have the City of Syracuse follow Onondaga County’s lead and pass a visitability resolution that encourages home builders in the city to build visitable homes (2003).
- Pushing to ensure that people with disabilities are guaranteed the right to a private and independent vote. Since the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) passed in 2002, ARISE has hosted voting machine testing, contacted legislators, surveyed more than 100 polling places in Onondaga County for accessibility, and participated in demonstrations to promote the need for access to the polls.
- Advocated to have Onondaga County pass a “Visitability Resolution” mandating that single-family and duplex homes built by the county are constructed using the standards of a “visitable” design (2002). Note that visitability does not mean fully accessible but ensures basic access to the first floor of a dwelling through features such as one zero-step entrance, 36” clearance for hallways, and a bathroom that is usable by persons who use a wheelchair.
- Advocated to ensure that Governor Pataki didn’t remove an increase in Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for Supplemental Security Income recipients (2002). The efforts paid off – not only did the Governor rescind the cuts, there haven’t been any proposed cuts to COLA since!
- Advocated for Medicaid Buy In legislation (2002). This important legislation allows people with disabilities to increase their income through employment, pay a premium, and continue receiving Medicaid health insurance benefits. Prior to this, people with disabilities would be removed from Medicaid if they worked and earned even a modest income. Unfortunately, this forced many people to choose between working and losing the vital services they need to survive (Medicaid is the only insurance that pays for long-term in-home attendant care for people with disabilities).
- Advocated to ensure that when the NYS Building code was being re-drafted, code officials didn’t remove basic access requirements for newly constructed and renovated apartment complexes. This would have greatly contributed to New York’s lack of affordable housing crisis (2001).
Advocates are passionate, dedicated, and a whole lot of fun to work with. We urge you to join our efforts to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities. Whether you join our Action E-List and respond to state or national Action Alerts … or join an ARISE Advocacy Group to work on issues locally, your help does make a difference!