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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.

Buffalo Common Council approves $63K for full-time ADA coordinator position

Several people stand or sit in wheelchairs for a photo in a wood and stone government council chamber.
Emyle Watkins
/
WBFO News
Several leaders in the disability community who have fought for the city to come into compliance with the ADA stand with their Common Council representatives after the Dec. 6, 2022, Civil Service Committee meeting where a resolution to create an ADA advocate was heard.

The Buffalo Common Council approved a budget amendment Tuesday to allocate $63,749 toward a new diversity and inclusion coordinator who will serve as the city's Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator and advocate for the disability community.

“It's going to benefit the Common Council, it's going to benefit the citizens, all the way around," said Common Council President Darius Pridgen after the meeting.

Last week, WBFO reported on the City of Buffalo’s violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, including the absence of an ADA coordinator. On Monday, WBFO reported that the city claims they have been working on creating a similar position since April, which was the budget amendment that councilmembers ended up voting on Tuesday.

“It was a bit of a very short marathon in making sure that we have all the information and the facts and to get everybody here in City Hall working together," said Councilmember Mitch Nowakowski, who originally submitted a resolution to create an ADA advocate position a few weeks ago. "But we got to the end goal, and that was a budgeted position.”

Mitch Nowakowski stands to the left. He is wearing a suit and tie, glasses, and has short brown hair and a short beard. BJ Stasio sits in his power wheelchair in the middle of the photo. He has a beard, and is wearing glasses, a grey sweater, grey pants, and a superman hat. Todd Vaarwerk sits next to BJ in a power wheelchair and has grey-brown hair and a beard. He is wearing glasses, a black jacket, a multicolored scarf, and a black shirt.
Emyle Watkins
/
WBFO News
Mitch Nowakowski, BJ Stasio and Todd Vaarwerk pose for a photo after the approval of the new ADA advocate/Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator position on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022, in the Buffalo Common Council Chambers.

Nowakowski said he was unaware of the position being worked on by Mayor Byron Brown's office when he submitted his resolution.

“The council was unaware of this work," he said. "And that's why I proceeded to move forward through my channels, through a resolution.”

Following WBFO’s investigation into the city’s ADA compliance, Deputy Mayor Crystal Rodriguez-Dabney shared the city did not communicate its work on this position to the public.

The city has been without a designated ADA coordinator, a legal requirement under the ADA, for over 11 months. The title is typically given to an existing employee and is not required by law to be its own position.

When the new full-time job is filled, the city says they will designate this person to be that coordinator.

“The next steps are that this is voted on and passed by the Common Council today," Nowakowski said before the meeting, "and then heads for posting soon, hopefully by next week, or before the first of the year, so that we put the posting out there and get as many applicants as we can and get someone in this position.”

Activist BJ Stasio, who worked with Nowakowski on the resolution and has been vocal about the city’s lack of a coordinator, met up with the deputy mayor Monday afternoon to be filled in on the work they’ve been doing and get his feedback.

“There was some apologizing that this wasn't done in a timely fashion," Stasio said. “The apology is great, but let's move forward. Let's make this happen. So I'm glad it's finally in motion, finally moving, and we're gonna get some resolution hopefully soon for the entire disability community to have a representative in City Hall.”

Both Stasio and Chief Policy Officer for Western New York Independent Living Todd Vaarwerk have advocated that this position be filled by someone with a disability. Members of the common council appear to support that idea as well.

“The person who fulfills his position needs that lived experience and understanding [of] how it affects every facet of your life," said Lovejoy Councilmember Brian Bollman during the approval of the position.

Vaarwerk also met with Rodriguez-Dabney Monday afternoon with Stasio, and said that while this is a start, "the devil will be in the details.”

“While the meeting did a very good job of making me understand what their plan is and what their intentions are, how that plan is rolled out is a very important thing for the people with disabilities in this community," Vaarwerk said. "So I'm going to continue to monitor it, to make sure that they keep to the promises of the best practices, that they're telling us that they want to adhere to.”

Emyle Watkins is an investigative journalist covering disability for WBFO.
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