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DISABILITY COMMISSION ANNUAL REPORT FOR 2022 - 2023

The annual report for the Mayor's Commission for Persons Disabilities highlights the work that the commission has done to improve accessibility in Boston over the last year.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS

Outdoor Dining:

  • Our Architectural Access staff continued reviewing site plans for hundreds of restaurants who submitted applications for the final year of the City’s temporary on-street outdoor dining program. Staff ensured that layouts were compliant and that sidewalk paths of travel remained accessible.
  • Staff also continued distributing our Accessibility Tool Kit for restaurants who were approved for the temporary outdoor dining. This toolkit includes information on accessibility and accommodations for people with disabilities.
  • Collaborated with multiple City Departments to create and implement a new permanent outdoor dining program that kicked off in May, 2023. The permanent program incorporates lessons learned and best practices from the 3-year pilot outdoor dining program that was in place throughout COVID. 
  • Our architectural access staff developed the accessibility guidance for the new permanent program, and they created four standardized schematic plans of accessible outdoor dining layouts. These schematic plans were approved by the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board (AAB) for use on permanent outdoor dining set-ups on Boston public rights of way.
  • Small restaurants can choose one of these four standard layout plans to ensure that their outdoor dining layout is accessible for people with disabilities. This will support small restaurants by saving them time and money, and it will allow them to move forward with their application for the permanent outdoor dining program.

City Hall Accessibility Upgrades:

  • Worked closely with the City Property Management Department on the final stages of the renovation of City Hall Plaza to ensure ideal access for people with physical, sensory, and other disabilities, Participated in the grand reopening celebration of the Plaza last fall.
  • Provided input and guidance on accessibility for the new Civic Pavilion building located on City Hall Plaza. This building is fully accessible and open to the public.
  • Received an extension of the grant funding we secured in 2021 through the Massachusetts Office on Disability ADA Municipal Grant Program. This funding will be used for the installation of a vertical lift to the mezzanine in the City Hall lobby, which will replace the existing inclined chair lift. This will improve access to the event space on the mezzanine. Construction of the new lift began in April, 2023, and should be completed by June, 2023.
  • Collaborated with the Property Management Department to install wayfinding signage on the 3rd floor of City Hall where a set of decommissioned escalators connecting to the 2nd floor are located. We are currently working with the Public Facilities Department to assess plans to replace these existing escalators with an elevator to make the connection between the 2nd and 3rd floors accessible for people with disabilities.

Communication Access:

  • All our staff are trained in the process of providing communication access to constituents who speak languages other than English, including ASL. This training is an important piece of our ongoing work with the City of Boston Office of Language and Communication Access.
  • All of our department’s vital documents are translated into the top ten languages spoken in Boston, and are available upon request. We also began including Babel Notices in all of our mailings as a standard operating procedure. 
  • Collaborated with the Office of Language and Communication Access on multiple initiatives, including looking at ways to improve the availability of ASL interpreters for City hosted events. We are currently exploring the possibility of creating an ASL Pipeline Program through Boston Public Schools and local colleges.
  • Collaborated on a pilot tax preparation program for Visually Impaired People (VIPs), in addition to holding our annual Deaf Tax Days which offer free tax preparation for Deaf constituents
  • Continued hosting virtual platforms for monthly Advisory Board meetings, employment events during National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October, and more. 
  • Added language translation options to our monthly Advisory Council meetings. We will continue to expand our work in this area.
  • Continued working with multiple City departments and external agencies to ensure that American Sign Language interpreters were secured and present at Mayoral press conferences.

Programs and Services:

  • Coordinated with the City of Boston Elections Department and members of the disability community to spread the word about the City Council Boston accessible vote by mail system that allows people to vote independently, privately, and securely from home. Also continued efforts to ensure accessibility of in-person voting at polling sites.
  • With extended funding from CitiBank, we continued our Financial Empowerment program for Boston Public School STRIVE transition-age students with disabilities. Based on the success of the 2021-2022 pilot, we helped to support the training of 7 additional teachers and reached 65 additional students this year. These BPS students received 10 hours of financial wellness training, had a question and answer session with staff from the Mayor’s Office of Financial Empowerment, and went on a site visit to credit unions. 
  • Continued the third year of our virtual internship program for clients of the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, this annual event brings 10 job ready Boston residents who went to City Hall for a 6 week internship. We pivoted to a virtual internship program during COVID, and hope to resume our usual internship program this year.
  • Continued operating the On Street Accessible Parking (OSAP) program in business areas and throughout Boston Neighborhoods, in collaboration with BTD.
  • Provided three paid summer internships for college students with disabilities as part of our work on financial empowerment of youth with disabilities funded by CitiBank.
  • Resumed broadcasting our Disability News & Views TV Show, which had been put on hiatus during COVID. 
  • Processed and Resolved ADA Title II Grievances filed against the City of Boston

Staffing:

  • Expanded office staff by hiring a new Architectural Access Specialist. This role will focus on collaborating with the Boston Public Schools on their multi-million dollar Green New Deal renovation plan for older school buildings.
  • We are in the process of hiring a Training Specialist to help increase systemic access throughout all City of Boston departments. This new hire will expand our office to 10 staff positions, a large increase from the previous 3 full time staff the Commission had ten years ago. This embodies the Mayor’s commitment to accessibility and inclusion.
  • Started up a Disability Employee Resource Group (ERG) to support staff who work for the City of Boston. This group will provide support, resources, social activities and more for employees who have a disability, have family members with disabilities, or just want to show support for the disability Community.
  • Celebrated our Senior Architectural Access Specialist, Sarah Leung, who was awarded the Shattuck Award for outstanding service as a public employee.

Architectural Access:

  • Revitalized the Disability Housing Task Force that concluded in 2019 after reaching its goals. The second iteration of this group will focus on aging in place and ways to mitigate the impacts of climate change in housing for residents with disabilities.
  • Created an Accessibility Self-Assessment Survey to assist small businesses in eliminating barriers for people with disabilities. Businesses and agencies can use this tool to figure out ways to increase accessibility for free or at a low cost.
  • Continued serving on the Public Improvement Commission (PIC) to ensure that all construction on public rights of way in Boston is fully accessible and compliant with AAB and ADA building codes.
  • Continued working closely with City Departments including the Public Works Department to upgrade or install 1,600 curb ramps each year over the next 10 years in response to a consent decree settlement with disability advocates. 
  • Continued Staff Appointment on the MA Architectural Access Board.
  • Continued providing Input and Technical Assistance on BPDA Developments.

City Department Collaborations

  • Coordinated an interdepartmental effort to create a whole-of-government response to address areaways. creating accessibility in these conditions. Areaways are an old condition that carved out space underneath the sidewalk to give property owners extra storage space. Since areaways are actually owned by the property’s landlord, the City cannot repair them. 
  • BIFDC - Work collaboratively on the Boston Inclusionary Development Committee
  • PWD - Conduct monthly meetings with the Public Works Department to raise constituent reports, coordinate work across neighborhoods, and discuss priorities for upcoming construction seasons.
  • In partnership with the Streets Cabinet we created a public outreach and education project, Boston Brakes, to inform cyclists of the unique needs of pedestrians with disabilities. 

Disability Agency Collaborations

  • Lead the National Coalition of Municipal Offices for Persons with Disabilities (CMOPD) monthly virtual meetings, Met with senior officials at the US Department of Transportation to discuss transit concerns for the disability community including accessibility of airline travel, on-demand transit, ride shares, paratransit, and autonomous vehicles. Planning to meet with Transportation Secretary Pete Buddageig in Washington DC in June.
  • Established a relationship with the Massachusetts Special Olympics to support their programming throughout Boston, including the Boston Public Schools.

Hosted Annual Events:

  • Disability Community Forum - held our first in-person forum since the pandemic. It was a hybrid event, on Zoom and live at Suffolk University Law School. The event was attended by almost 100 people in the disability community. Mayor Wu also attended to meet and greet constituents and listen to their concerns 
  • ADA Celebration Day -  held our annual event on City Hall Plaza, honoring the City of Boston Public Facilities and Property Management Departments for their commitment to accessibility and inclusion of the City Hall Plaza renovation.
  • Civic Engagement Day - held our first engagement event in three years, welcoming people with disabilities to come into Boston City Hall, the heart of local government. Participants were able to meet the Mayor, City Councilors, Neighborhood Liaisons, and other staff of elected officials.
  • Pathways to Employment with the City of Boston - hosted a webinar in collaboration with the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission.

Equity & Inclusion Cabinet:

  • Our office moved from the Human Services Cabinet into the Equity and Inclusion Cabinet last spring. This has helped us align our efforts on systemic accessibility with the other E & I Cabinet departments. 
  • Collaborated with other E & I Cabinet departments to create an Equity and Inclusion Toolkit to ensure that all meetings and events organized by City Hall departments are accessible and inclusive of people with disabilities. We produced a Meetings and Events Checklist and an Outreach and Engagement Checklist which give simplified guidance on ways to create basic access for people with disabilities.

Disability Commission Advisory Board:

  • This is a volunteer board made up of 13 residents who either have  disabilities themselves or have family members with disabilities. They provide input on issues of importance in the disability community to City officials. The Board is a broad representation of the city’s diverse neighborhoods, ethnicities, and abilities.
  • Held 12 monthly public meetings on Zoom.
  • Appointed 3 new board members
  • Held election of Board Officers to select Chairperson, Vice Chair, Secretary, and Treasurer
  • Successfully advocated for the passage of a Captions Ordinance, which mandates all businesses in Boston to turn captions on public-facing TVs. This went into effect in December, 2022, and is now the law of the land.
  • Board members participated in the Massachusetts Office on Disability’s (MOD) Advanced Community Access Monitor (CAM) Training
  • Did a site visit with the Property Management Department to inspect the brick installation on City Hall Plaza during the construction process. Board members will do another inspection of the bricks later this year to see how they have held up over the winter months.
  • The Board wrote several letters of support/concern, including:
    • Welcoming Maura Healy in her new role as Governor, identifying their key priorities, and offering to support her work over the next four years
    • Welcoming Andrea Campbell as the new MA Attorney General, identifying their key priorities, and offering to support her work over the next four years. They also thanked her for her time on the Boston City Council.
    • Outdoor Dining - expressed concern to City of Boston staff about the accessibility barriers caused by outdoor dining, especially the lack of access on sidewalks.
    • Supporting Bills S.1037/H.1601 “An Act prohibiting discrimination against adults with disabilities in Family and Juvenile Court proceedings” at the MA State House
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