Skoufis bill would create state agency for the physically disabled

State lawmakers have passed a bill by Sen. James Skoufis that would re-establish a state agency that advocates on behalf of New Yorkers with physical disabilities – something that once existed in Albany but no longer does.

The bill to create the Office of the Advocate for People with Disabilities was approved on May 29 – the annual Legislative Disabilities Awareness Day – by 140-0 in the Assembly and 52-8 in the Senate. It will go next to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign or veto.

“Long overdue, we must re-open an agency-level advocacy office for the rights of people with disabilities so that people with physical hardships receive the services and support that enable them to make informed choices,” Skoufis, D-Woodbury, said in a statement. “I’ve long been advocating for this office since my time in the Assembly as it’s imperative that these individuals have somewhere in state government to go for assistance.”

Doug Hovey, president and CEO of Independent Living Inc. in Newburgh, pointed out in an interview that the state has agencies to represent people with development disabilities, mental illness, and alcohol or drug dependency – but none for those with physical disabilities. The office it once had for that purpose was mostly symbolic, he said, but he had hoped it would grow into a more powerful advocate.

Instead, the state defunded the office after forming the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs in 2013, Hovey said. He said the Justice Center focuses on people with developmental disabilities, not those with physical or sensory impairments.

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