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In December 2022, WBFO published an investigation into the City of Buffalo's violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This series includes the original and follow-up reporting from that story.

A timeline of the City of Buffalo’s lack of ADA coordinator, ASL interpretation

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, wearing a blue suite, white shirt and blue tie, speaks at two microphones.
Eileen Elibol
/
Buffalo Toronto Public Media
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown addresses the press May 17, 2022.

A WBFO investigation has found the City of Buffalo is out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Mayor Byron Brown's administration does not have an ADA coordinator, and also struggles to provide American Sign Language interpretation at all news conferences.

Here’s a timeline of the city’s known ADA coordinators, or lack thereof.

1990’s to 2003: Rosemarie McKenna serves as the city’s ADA Coordinator under a disability office at one point called the “Office for People with Handicapping Conditions.”

2005: The ADA coordinator position is moved to the city’s Corporation Counsel office, as the disability office has been dissolved.

2009/2010: Melissa Hoffman is employed in Corporation Counsel.

2012: Melissa Hoffman leaves Corporation Counsel and is no longer ADA coordinator.

2012: Delia Young (nee Cadle) joins Corporation Counsel and volunteers to be ADA coordinator.

2016: Young leaves Corporation Counsel for a job with the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority.

2017: Anna Falicov, who works for Corporation Counsel, is appointed ADA Coordinator.

2017: Young leaves city government.

2018: Young is still listed as the only ADA coordinator on the city’s Disability Access page.

2020: Young and Falicov are both listed as ADA coordinators on the Disability Access page.

December 2021: Falicov leaves city government.

Dec. 5, 2022 (present): Young, identified as Delia Cadle, and Falicov are still listed as ADA coordinators on the Disability Access page.

And here's a timeline of the city’s handling of and ASL interpretation and closing captioning over the last few years.

March 11, 2020, to Oct. 28, 2021: From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic through the week before the November 2021 election, 407 videos are posted to Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown’s Facebook page. Only 26% have captions and only 3% have ASL interpretation.

May 26, 2021: During a meet-the-candidates event hosted by Western New York Independent Living, Dave Wantuck of Deaf Access Services asks Brown if he will provide an ASL interpreter and captioning for all press conferences and announcements, and confirm it in writing. Brown says he believes it is “critically important to provide ASL interpreters and closed captioning for all events taking place in the city of Buffalo,” and that his administration has included funding in the upcoming budget starting to “provide ASL interpretation and closed captioning of all city events starting July 1 [2021].”

July 1 to Oct. 3, 2021: Just six of 84 videos posted to Brown’s Facebook page have captions. Only two videos include ASL interpreters, although neither had captioning. One is a People Inc. event, while the other is a Sept. 20 press conference for Deaf Awareness Week, where Brown announced interpretation will be added to mayoral and city press conferences “beginning today.”

Oct. 4 to Oct. 28, 2021: A little over half of the Brown’s 29 videos have captions. Eighteen have captions, including three that also have interpreters, while 11 don’t have either.

Oct. 14, 2021: In a roundtable discussion with WBFO, Brown says, “Members of the disabled community want to get information from every source possible, and if we were putting things out on social media and that wasn't communicating to our disabled community in a way that they could access it, we needed to correct that." He also says he’s glad the city has “corrected the issue of putting things out on social media that did not have interpretation, that now does have interpretation, so members of our disabled community can access that information.”

May 14, 2022: Brown holds a press conference several hours after the racially motivated mass shooting at the Tops Market on Jefferson Avenue. An interpreter is not present. He posts nine more press conference and distribution event updates to his Facebook page over the following week that do not have an interpreter.

May 21, 2022: Brown appears with an interpreter at a moment of silence event for the victims of the shooting.

May 24, 2022: Disability Rights New York (DRNY) sends a letter to Brown regarding the lack of ASL interpretation at the city’s recent emergency briefings, and requests the city include ASL interpretation during all live broadcasts related to the public health and safety. “Without in-screen, real-time ASL interpretation for important events and public statements, your community members who communicate using ASL are being denied access to important information from the City of Buffalo,” the letter reads. DRNY also cites a 2020 lawsuit it filed against former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for a lack of ASL interpretation at his pandemic briefings. A judge had granted a preliminary injunction requiring the Cuomo administration to include an in-frame ASL interpreter during televised briefings.

June 9, 2022: Leaders in the local disability community meet with Common Council President Darius Pridgen by Zoom to share concerns regarding ASL interpretation, as well as the apparent lack of an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinator. Pridgen contacts Deputy Mayor Crystal Rodriguez-Dabney, who then runs into Chief Diversity Officer Chantele Thompson. Pridgen is told, and relays to those in the meeting, that Thompson has been appointed ADA coordinator. Todd Vaarwerk of Western New York Independent Living commits to emailing and meeting with Thompson to confirm.

June 23, 2022: Vaarwerk receives an email from Thompson, copying in the Deputy Mayor and Chief of Staff Crystal Rodriguez-Dabney, saying that she is not the designated ADA coordinator and that she is only assisting with ASL interpretation needs, adding that Pridgen may have misspoken. She says the ADA coordinator confirmation process is underway and that an ADA committee is also being formed.

July 26, 2022: Leaders of the local disability community, including Frank Cammarata, Erie County’s ADA coordinator and director of its Office for People with Disabilities, hold a press conference on the 32nd anniversary of the ADA to call on the city to appoint an ADA coordinator. “We've been saying for ages that you wouldn't have had the problem [with ASL interpretation] if there was an ADA Coordinator covering it,” Vaarwerk says. “The mayor's response on this issue in the past has been quite frustrating, which is why we're shocked that, at this point on the 32nd anniversary, we need to bring it to the public's attention.”

Emyle Watkins is an investigative journalist covering disability for WBFO.