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Disability Commission Annual Report for 2020 - 2021

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

COVID-19 Response:
  • Worked with the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) and the BPHC Medical Intelligence Center (MIC) to distribute PPE supplies to local disability organizations.
  • Collaborated with the City’s Office of Food Access to provide meals for residents with disabilities, including students in Special Education in the Boston Public Schools system.
  • Coordinated procurement and distribution of COVID Safety Kits to 800 students in BPS SPED program. Kits included masks, hand sanitizer, cleaning wipes, and pulse oximeter.
  • Procured 40,000 cloth masks from Uniqlo clothing company, and worked with BPS to ensure they were given out to BPS SPED students and their families.
  • Ensured that all COVID testing sites in the City were wheelchair accessible and had technology available on-site to connect constituents to video remote interpreting (VRI).
  • Ensured that all COVID vaccine clinics in the City were wheelchair accessible and had technology available on-site to connect constituents to video remote interpreting (VRI.)
  • Organized designated vaccine clinics to support people who are Deaf and hard of hearing by providing in-person ASL interpreters on-site.
  • Organized designated vaccine clinics to support people who are blind and low-vision by providing sighted guides, wayfinding, and other supports on-site.
  • Assured disability representation on the Mayor’s COVID-19 Equity Task Force, to make sure that people with disabilities were fully included in responses and supports.
  • Began sending out a weekly Commissioner Message to those involved with Boston’s disability community, to share important updates, announcements, and encouragement.
Outdoor Dining:
  • Collaborated with several City departments to create and submit a variance request to the MA Architectural Access Board (AAB), allowing temporary on-street dining during COVID. 
  • Reviewed site plans for over 500 restaurants who applied to set up temporary on-street dining, to ensure their layouts included temporary ramps and accessible paths of travel. 
  • Purchased & distributed 175 portable ramps to restaurants for access from the sidewalk to street, prioritizing minority/women-owned businesses in underserved neighborhoods.
  • Created and distributed an Accessibility Tool Kit tool kit that included instructions on setting up the ramp and a sign to post in the window.
  • Participated in a webinar training series for restaurant owners to review accessibility requirements and best practices for disabled customers.
  • Investigated and resolved all complaints we received about accessibility of outdoor dining (very few).
City Hall Access:
  • Worked closely with the City Property Management Department on the renovation of City Hall Plaza to ensure ideal access.
  • Received an ADA Municipal grant from the Massachusetts Office on Disability to install a vertical lift to the mezzanine in the City Hall lobby. This will replace the existing inclined chair lift to improve access to the event space on the mezzanine.
Communication Access:
  • Ensured that there were American Sign Language interpreters at every Mayoral press conference during the COVID.
  • Secured funding for one FTE in-house ASL interpreter. 
  • Purchased 2,000 clear face masks to distribute to schools, community organizations, and residents to improve communication access for people who use lip-reading and facial cues to communicate.
  • Transitioned to virtual meetings for the monthly Advisory Board, ADA 30 celebration, employment events during National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October, and more.
Programs and Services:
  • Coordinated with the City of Boston Elections Department and members of the community to adopt an accessible vote by mail system that allows people to vote independently and securely from home.
  • With funding from Citi, created a pilot Financial Empowerment program for Boston Public School STRIVE students. Trained 2 teachers on the National Disability Institute’s financial wellness curriculum. 35 students received at least 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. Students also received $100 in seed money to open bank accounts. Based on the success of the pilot, a program for the 2021-2022 school year training 7 additional teachers and reaching 65 additional students is planned.
  • Pivoted our annual internship for clients of the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission to a virtual program. 
  • Continued operating the On Street Accessible Parking (OSAP) program in Boston Neighborhoods, in collaboration with BTD.
  • Pivoted our “Deaf Tax Days” (Annual Free Tax Preparation for Deaf Constituents) to a virtual platform.
  • Provided Summer Internships for Youth and Adults with disabilities
  • Broadcast Monthly Disability News & Views TV Show
  • Processed and Resolved ADA Title II Grievances Against the City of Boston
Staffing:
  • Hired a new Outreach and Engagement Specialist and a new On-Street Accessible Parking Program Manager to return the office to full staffing levels.
  • Secured funding for one FTE in-house ASL interpreter. 
Architectural Access:
  • After many years of partnership with the Public Improvement Commission (PIC), our office was officially appointed a Seat on the PIC
  • Worked closely with City Departments including the Public Works Department to develop a plan to upgrade or install at least 1,600 curb ramps each year over the next 10 years or until all City streets have compliant curb ramps in place, in response to a consent decree settlement with city residents. Coordinated interdepartmental effort to create a whole-of-government response.
  • Collaborated on the redesign for the Shaw Memorial to create a fully accessible sidewalk and viewing area.
  • Provided feedback on the Copley Library Master Plan including accessibility upgrades to the McKim Building front entrance.
  • Continued working with internal departments in City Hall to give input on master plan design for Boston City Hall and City Hall Plaza
  • Continued Working on Sidewalk Reconstruction Priorities with Public Works Department
  • Updated the Accessibility Checklist & Best Practices Guide for City Departments to use when planning meetings and events
  • Continued Staff Appointment on the MA Architectural Access Board
  • Continued providing Input and Technical Assistance on BPDA Developments
  • Continued review of all PIC Projects in the Public Right of Way
City Department Collaborations
  • Elections - In addition to developing an accessible absentee voting process, continued coordinating to ensure accessibility of in-person voting.
  • BIFDC - Work collaboratively on a new initiative called Boston Inclusionary Development Committee
  • PWD - Conduct regular meetings with the Public Works Department to raise constituent reports, coordinate work across neighborhoods, and discuss priorities for upcoming construction seasons.
Disability Agency Collaborations
  • Lead the National Coalition of Municipal Offices for Persons with Disabilities (CMOPD)
  • Met with senior officials at the US Department of Labor to discuss employment concerns for the disability community including access to apprenticeships and the need to eliminate the sub-minimum wage for disabled persons.
  • Met with senior officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to advocate for expansion of Medicaid buy-in programs for people with disabilities which allow people to work while maintaining access to critical care services.
  • Presented to the US Conference of Mayors along with the CMOPD on our cities’ efforts to improve financial wellness among people with disabilities.
  • Participated in the Massachusetts Office on Disability’s (MOD) Community Access Monitor (CAM) Training
  • Participated in the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce’s Fierce Urgency of Now Festival by providing a training for young professionals on leading an inclusive career 
Hosted Annual Events:
  • ADA Celebration Day - In 2020 our ADA 30 celebration was held virtually.
  • ADA Celebration Day - In 2021 we were able to host an outdoor, in-person event at Copley Square Park in which we honored the City of Boston’s Emergency Medical Services for their dedication to serving the disability community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Disability Commission Advisory Board:
  • This is a volunteer board of 13 residents with disabilities, who provide a broad representation of the city’s diverse neighborhoods, disabilities, and ethnicities.
  • Pivoted to virtual meetings
  • Held election of Board Officers to select Chairperson, Vice Chair, Secretary, and Treasurer
  • The Board wrote letters of support/concern on disability-related legislation including:
    • Raising concerns over access to the COVID-19 vaccine to Governor Baker
    • Welcoming Mayor Wu and identifying the Board’s work and key priorities
    • Congratulating Secretary Walsh on his appointment to lead to US Department of Labor, and raising issues about disability employment
  • Held a City Council hearing to propose a captions ordinance
Interdepartmental Collaborations:
  • Captions ordinance - The Advisory Board has proposed that the City of Boston adopt an ordinance that would require places of public accommodation (such as restaurants, banks, and gyms) to enable the closed captioning option on any TVs that are displayed to the public. As a result of this advocacy, the Disability Commission worked with City Council to hold a hearing to explore how this ordinance could be implemented.
  • Continued participation in Language and Communication Access Working Group
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