Westchester is creating an advisory council on people with disabilities. County Executive George Latimer signed the bill that enables the council, marking disability awareness month.
Melvyn Tanzman is executive director of the nonprofit Westchester Disabled on the Move. He welcomes the opportunity to work together for a barrier-free Westchester.
“This law is going to empower people with disabilities to play an active role in making our county more accessible and a great place for people with disabilities to live, work, study and enjoy,” Tanzman says. “The county’s goal to include all residents in an open manner gives life to a phrase that the disability community uses a lot: nothing about us without us.”
He says about 20 percent of the population has a disability. The Council will assist county government in matters concerning issues, problems, needs and interests of Westchester residents with disabilities. Evan Latainer is commissioner of the county Office for People with Disabilities.
“I think this council has been long overdue,” Latainer says. “This is going to be an opportunity for us to partner with the advocacy agencies such as Westchester Disabled on the Move, Westchester Independent Living Center. Also other advocates and individuals with disabilities are moving things forward for equal access, transportation, employment opportunities and so much more.”
The Board of Legislators unanimously passed the legislation forming this advisory board which creates an entity that can advise the county executive and the Board. Ben Boykin is Democratic chair of the county Board of Legislators.
“We are now giving a seat at the table for people with disabilities,” Boykin says. “We want to hear your voice. We want to work with you.”
Michael Orth is commissioner of the Westchester County Office of Community Mental Health.
“And while we do have a lot of committees, the nice thing of the structure of this new committee, council is that we bring the various disability communities together and look at various trends, issues that we can through our force together really take on,” Orth says.
Catherine Parker is Democratic majority leader of the Board of Legislators.
“Unfortunately, we’ve seen at the Board in the last year decisions being made regarding even voting machines, where there was an issue that tremendously affected the disabled community and that there wasn’t a voice at the table,” Parker says. “This gives you that place, that table.”
Westchester County Executive George Latimer signed the bill at the office of Westchester Disabled on the Move.
“This is a beginning, not an end — the creation of a body that will allow for dialogue for people from all circumstances to be able to participate and talk about policy and talk about legislation and talk about funding priorities,” says Latimer.
The committee will be composed of 19 members appointed by the county executive and confirmed by the Board of Legislators — most having certain disabilities or representing an organization that provides services to people with such disabilities. The county executive also will appoint, with Board approval, one member each from the county’s Office for People with Disabilities and the Departments of Community Mental Health, Social Services, Health and Emergency Services. These will be non-voting ex-officio members.