Supporting Disabled Residents in Newton
Many thanks to Nathan Persampieri, Melissa Shang and Eileen Sandberg, three incredible Newton disability justice activists, for their input and guidance in formulating this policy platform.
We must pursue accessibility by ensuring compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Newton should serve as a leader in making sure that buildings, housing, and green spaces are accessible to all people. First, we must consistently follow the guidelines set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and fulfill its four goals: equal opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency. Second, we must combat discrimination against residents with disabilities in any form. Residents with disabilities deserve equal access to employment, transportation, and public amenities. As a city Councilor, I will work tirelessly to protect that right.
The ADA serves as a foundation upon which we can support our residents with disabilities; but the truth is we can do so much more. There is immense work that needs to be done beyond the Americans with Disabilities Act, and I am committed to fostering that sense of inclusivity within our city. We must strive to implement universal design and affirm that Newton is a place where residents with disabilities feel safe, supported, and at home.
2. I will support efforts to implement universal design in our city.
We must establish accessibility standards across Newton, not just in buildings but also in housing and green space. Universal design allows for equitable access to and usage of an environment by all people—regardless of size, age, or disability. Examples of universal design range from curb cuts to the usage of high-contrast colors/fonts on documents. I believe that universal design is a critical step as we strive to make Newton a model of inclusivity.
As we work toward universal design, we must also require ADA compliance and standards for accessibility in all new housing developments, as well as ensuring genuine affordability. This includes the incorporation of elevators, lifts, adjusted counter heights, additional space for caregivers and more. Currently, 41% of public housing units in the United States are home to a disabled person but only 3% of them include accessibility features. I will strive to provide all residents with a variety of living options to empower them to move around in the way that is best for them. This will include multi and single-family housing, affordable housing, and independent/assisted living options. This also must include strong tenant protection and advocacy for disabled renters who need accessibility adjustments in their homes. It is also crucial that we prioritize the safety and accessibility of our city’s public transit, specifically our Commuter Rail stations, which have long been criticized for being dangerous and inaccessible. Ensuring dignified mobility in, out and around Newton on our bus, train and commuter rail lines must happen without delay.
3. We must ensure that residents with mental and emotional illnesses receive the support they deserve with dignity and opportunity.
Mental and emotional disabilities can often be overlooked in discussions of advancing disability justice, but we must support residents experiencing mental illness who are in need of support and city services. This includes ensuring support in and out of schools to help students experiencing depression, anxiety, OCD, BPD, eating disorders, and other mental illnesses receive the recovery resources they need, as well as working with the School Committee to improve curricula and in-school support surrounding mental and emotional health. We also must combat toxic cultures of work, stress and isolation in our schools that I experienced firsthand and that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
We also need to bolster our city’s Department of Health and Human Services, specifically its budget for mental health service contracting and youth services to equip them with mental health professionals to expand their capacity to provide services, programming and educational workshops to Newton residents. I am also supportive of piloting an Assertive Community Treatment Team in Newton to provide an integrated approach to community mental health delivery. Incorporating a community-based approach would allow us to promote equitable recovery and community safety, but also meet secondary goals of reducing housing and food insecurity and underemployment. This also requires that we improve access to substance abuse prevention and recovery resources, especially a renewed commitment to ending the opioid crisis. It is crucial that we prioritize harm reduction rather than criminalization, providing access to recovery resources for residents and community education to Newton residents to combat misinformation and reduce stigma.
4. We must confront biases and dismantle ableism in Newton.
While everyday ableism may go unrecognized, it is pervasive in Newton and beyond. There is simply no excuse for disability rights violations to occur in Newton, but when they do, they must be dealt with swiftly. From the addition of closed captions/text-to-speech in public media and continuing virtual comment in public hearings to improving the accessibility of public spaces, there are countless ways for our city to improve. Newton should set an example for Greater Boston in fostering important discussions on ableism and bias, working against them at every turn.
This also includes the education and programming available to students with disabilities in Newton, who deserve to be taught self-advocacy methods, provided with career and professional opportunities, integrated in classrooms with non-disabled students as much as possible, and given necessary academic accommodations in a timely and dignified manner. We must provide students with disabilities the technological assistance they need, especially for disabled students of color, who are disproportionately neglected from receiving the accommodations they need and face higher rates of discipline and harassment in school environments. When faced with violations of rights and accommodations, I will hold institutions accountable and ensure that wrongdoings are corrected and prevented in the future. I also look forward to working with our School Committee to incorporate culturally responsive curricula regarding disability history in the United States.
It is also crucial that we invest and expand transition services to support residents with disabilities, fulfilling the four ADA objectives mentioned earlier. Whether it is job training and employment preparedness services (potentially through a pilot program in our high schools), expanded city programming or support for those continuing education, Newton should equip all disabled residents with the tools and help they need. We also must make available and accessible sources of financial assistance for our disabled neighbors who may be struggling to make ends meet, using rent support, tax relief and other mechanisms to help them in times of need.
When we work to confront racial injustice in Newton, especially with regards to policing, we also must confront the ways that disabled residents face a higher risk of violence. This also means decriminalizing mental health and ensuring that we adequately employ mental health professionals to de-escalate situations of mental health crisis.
Finally, we must seek out and amplify the voices and needs of residents with disabilities when discussing a new initiative, development, or city matter. We must also support disability advocates in our community through citywide forums in which their knowledge and guidance can educate and challenge our city to do better. Additionally, I am committed to supporting and amplifying the efforts of our city’s Commission on Disability and Understanding Our Differences to ensure that their work is supported and expanded.