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Hochul appoints New York's first chief disability officer

Governor Kathy Hochul holds a Covid-19 update in New York City on Tuesday December 14, 2021. During the briefing, Hochul also spoke virtually with New York business owners who have kept their doors open by allowing vaccinated and masked customers in their establishments.
Kevin P. Coughlin
Office of the Governor
New York Governor Kathy Hochul

New York Governor Kathy Hochul created a new state Office of the Chief Disability Officer, and named the first person to lead that office, something she said is long overdue.

Kim Hill, a longtime state Assembly staffer working on disability issues, will head an office located in the executive chamber, which means she will be in contact directly with Governor Hochul and her top aides.

Hochul said New York ranks 38 of the 50 states in the percentage of people with disabilities who have jobs. She said just 35% are fully employed, and 30% live in poverty. She said the new position is long overdue.

“We think about the fact that New York State has not had this position in permanent way, and that is an oversight,” said Hochul. “It’s just been inexcusable.”

Hill, who uses a wheelchair, called it “the honor of lifetime,” and said she’s eager to focus attention on issues like the lack of affordable and available home health care.

She said she wants to “bring the voices and priorities of all people with disabilities to the forefront” and work towards a more “integrated, inclusive and accessible New York.”

New York does have a state agency for people with developmental disabilities, but there is no one entity that deals with people with other kinds of disabilities.

Hochul said she would like to see 10% of the state’s workforce be comprised of people with disabilities.

And the governor said she’s including, as part of a $25 billion housing plan in her state budget, tens of thousands of units for supportive housing.

“They need to not just have a roof over their head, but... services, sometimes, that also allow them to excel in that environment,” Hochul said.

Denise Figueroa, who leads the Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley in Troy, where the announcement was held, said the “disability community has waited many years for a voice in state government.”

“We’ve been waiting for a long time for this to come,” Figueroa said.

New York previously had an Office for the Advocate for the Disabled, created under former Governor Mario Cuomo in 1983. Under the tenure of his son, former Governor Andrew Cuomo, the office was absorbed into the Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities. That entity was eventually disbanded, and replaced by another office, the Justice Center for the Protection of People With special needs, which has had an uneven track record.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.