'Full stop, I apologize': Buffalo's deputy mayor responds to WBFO's ADA compliance investigation
Last week, WBFO released an investigation detailing several violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act by the City of Buffalo. On Monday, WBFO’s Emyle Watkins sat down for an exclusive interview with City of Buffalo Deputy Mayor Crystal Rodriguez-Dabney to discuss the city’s response and what disabled Buffalonians can expect going forward.
“The goal was I don't want to add this to anybody's job," Rodriguez-Dabney said.
Rodriguez-Dabney said the city was not trying to go without ADA coordination, but rather has been focused on making coordination it's own position. According to her, the city has been working on a position, similar to the one currently proposed by Mitch Nowakowski and BJ Stasio, since April.
“This is important to the mayor's office. I think that not only creating its own position, which was an idea of the mayor, but also empowering them to be an advocate, says a lot about the priority and says a lot about its importance," Rodriguez-Dabney said. "Again, we could have had this problem solved easily by adding it to someone else's job description, that would have been the easy way out.”
For municipalities with over 50 employees to be in minimum compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, they must designate an ADA coordinator to handle complaints and accommodations. Typically, as Rodriguez-Dabney is referring to, an existing employee is appointed to the role. She says since she returned to city hall, her focus has been on creating a position that, when established, would go beyond the bare minimum, but in the process, work on this new position wasn’t communicated to the community.
“I'm sorry for that," Rodriguez-Dabney said. “I've been internally doing this work, I'm very much 'blinders on, get the work done' type of person. I haven't been hiding anything, we haven't been hiding anything. And so full stop, I apologize.”
As WBFO previously reported, there was a lot of confusion around if the city's chief diversity officer (CDO) is the ADA coordinator. Rodriguez-Dabney said since they’ve planned on moving the position to the CDO’s office, they wanted to start to move ADA duties there, but they have not officially given the CDO the ADA coordinator title. A city spokesperson previously confirmed to WBFO that the ADA coordinator position has been vacant for almost a year.
“I did not want that label [for the CDO]. Again, that's just adding on duties to someone's already existing job title," Rodriguez-Dabney said. "I wanted her to handle it until we get the official coordinator and whose focus will be that, but that's where we want them to go in the meantime.”
Now, the full-time position, called internally the diversity and Inclusion Coordinator, is on the docket for Common Council approval on Tuesday and she assured that it will be posted by the end of the year.
"This isn't something that just happened in a matter of a week," she said. "I've got the work, some of the work, in front of me to show because it's nothing that we could have put together within a week."
The position will be housed in the Diversity and Inclusion Office. You can read the proposed job description here by clicking "Budget and Personnel Amendment - Mayor - Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator." Rodriguez-Dabney said the position will be a voice for the disability community in city hall.
“The celebrations and the good stuff, that's easy, right?" she said. "But advocacy, we want this person to be the voice to come and say, to the administration, this isn't happening, and the community feels that this should happen. This is something that did happen. We need to rectify this.”
Rodriguez-Dabney and Chief Diversity Officer Chantele M. Thompson provided the following contact information for anyone looking to file an ADA complaint or accommodation request:
In Person: 65 Niagara Square, Room 226
Buffalo, NY 14202
Additionally, Rodriguez-Dabney said she became aware of the city’s lack of updated grievance documents and public notice, which are required under law after WBFO went to city hall and obtained outdated forms. She said they’re currently being updated to reflect that concerns and accommodation requests need to be directed to the Diversity and Inclusion office.
“Once that's done, we will be sending that out to the community to say here's our new packet of documents," Rodriguez-Dabney said. As of Dec. 12, the city's outdated disability notice has been removed from the website.
Rodriguez-Dabney said that after sign language interpretation was inconsistently used in the press conferences surrounding the May 14 mass shooting at Tops Market, the mayor's policies were updated to make it clear that the CDO is the point person for ASL interpretation. Rodriguez-Dabney said they want to make sure they can communicate with the Deaf community.
“Again, apologies full stop, for not [consistently using interpretation]," Rodriguez-Dabney said, "But moving forward, we aim to be compliant fully, but not just to be in compliance, but because we want to communicate with this community.”