Dawn Walter, BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing), RN (Registered Nurse), Hemodialysis Clinic Manager, stated, "For me, it is important to maintain the Disability Department. Many people have been forgotten, lacking support and advocates. I believe that having this department for these individuals is crucial." (Photo: by Lili Daliessio)

In a move towards a more inclusive and accessible Philadelphia, the city is set to vote on a crucial ballot question that could have a significant impact on the lives of individuals with disabilities. The question at hand is whether to establish a permanent Disability Office in the city or not.

The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter operates as the city’s constitution, describing the overall structure of government. The Charter can be amended when the City Council sends proposed changes to voters in the form of ballot questions. On the November 7th ballot, there will be one proposed Charter amendment for voters to consider for a yes/no vote.

What is the ballot question all about?

The ballot question will read: «Should the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to create an Office for People with Disabilities to coordinate the City’s compliance with requirements to provide access for people with disabilities to City services and programs and to otherwise provide for incorporation of the Office into the City government?»

To facilitate better understanding and assist individuals in making their decision on November 7th, here is the history begin.

Sonia Vargas de Hernandez, a 70-year-old Dominican resident of the Northeast, says, ‘’I support having a disability office here in Philadelphia because that community also deserves proper attention.’’( Photo: by Lili Daliessio)

The Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, as described on the city’s website: is dedicated to championing policies, programs, and systemic improvements that enhance the independence and community integration of Philadelphians with disabilities. Approximately 17.4% of Philadelphia’s population has a disability, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau. To put it in perspective, in 2016, a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts revealed that Philadelphia had the highest percentage of residents with disabilities among all major cities in the United States.

Fernando Suarez, co-owner of Fernando Suarez Business Advisors, said, «I strongly feel that the Office of Disability is necessary in the city of Philadelphia because you don’t know what it’s like to be disabled until you experience it yourself. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, not even for 5 minutes. Being disabled means living in a different world than you could ever have imagined, and now I’m speaking from my own experience.» (Photo: Courtesy/Fernando Suarez)

This office was established by Mayor Kenney in 2017 to adopt a more proactive approach to advocating for people with disabilities, surpassing the capabilities of the pre-existing Mayor’s Commission for People with Disabilities, which was primarily a volunteer advisory board. It’s worth noting that Mayor Kenney established this office through an executive order, which means that a future mayor could potentially dissolve it.

Councilmember Kendra Brooks is inviting the community: «I sponsored this ballot question because I believe that Philadelphia should be accessible for all of us. I hope you will join me in voting ‘YES’ on this ballot question. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact my office.” (Photo: Courtesy councilmember Kendra Brooks’s office)

Councilmember Kendra Brooks in May introduced the legislation co-sponsored by six other council members to create the office, passed by the City Council in June of 2023 and signed by Kenney. It also has support from the group Disability Pride Philadelphia. She said to Impacto: «Before I became a City Councilmember, I worked for 17 years as a program director for young people with disabilities at Easter Seals, and I saw the barriers that can prevent Philadelphians with disabilities from fully participating in the life of our city. With over 16% of Philadelphians living with one or more disabilities, we all know someone who is affected. I want our city to be accessible for all of us, and establishing a permanent Office for People with Disabilities is an important step.»

Maria Eugenia Daza, the owner of Mayita Selfcare, says: «It is of utmost importance that there is a permanent office here for people with disabilities, staffed by qualified individuals so that those who need it can be heard and supported.» (Photo: Courtesy/Maria Eugenia Daza)

This November 7th, make your voice count!

Lili Daliessio is the Community Information Manager at Esperanza Housing and Economic Development.

Esta historia es parte de Every Voice, Every Vote, un proyecto colaborativo administrado por The Lenfest Institute for Journalism. El apoyo principal lo proporciona la Fundación William Penn con fondos adicionales del Instituto Lenfest, Peter y Judy Leone, la Fundación John S., James L. Knight, Harriet y Larry Weiss, y la Fundación Wyncote, entre otros. Para obtener más información sobre el proyecto y ver una lista completa de colaboradores, visite www.everyvoice-everyvote.org. El contenido editorial se crea independientemente de los donantes del proyecto.


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