NYC Commissioner Christina Curry, Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities: Okay. How do you follow that act? Okay? Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I am a medium brown‑skinned woman — think chocolate candy… With darkish colored hair, and I’m wearing a purple scarf in recognition of #purplethursday to support domestic violence victims and survivors. The rest of my attire consists of black and white clothing.
Before we begin, a few housekeeping items. Of note, to your left from the entrance, we have, in no particular order, I want to say NYSCB — New York State Commission for the Blind, VISIONS, Lighthouse Guild, WeWALK and Glam Canes.
I’m going to tell you, I already skipped the order because I can’t see that well, so we’re going to pretend that I didn’t say all that. I want to thank MOSPCE and the MOPD staff, especially my chief of staff, Sara Rawshanara.
Without their help… Thank you. Without their help, this would not be the success that it is. Also, we have our MOPD staff, and they’re located throughout the area wearing their city IDs. If you need assistance, you can raise your hand, we’ll see it, we’ll come to you. You can ask the person closest to you to identify who’s wearing a staff ID; or, you can walk up and say hello.
I also said, I acknowledge the agencies here. I also want you to enjoy the food catered by Contento, the only fully accessible restaurant in the City of New York. And while you’re here, network, network, network. So, in years past, MOPD would host an awards events in the name of the late Matt Sapolin; however, this year we are celebrating the first appointed commissioner to MOPD, and that is the late Matthew Sapolin. He was first appointed as the executive director in 2002, and was elevated to commissioner in August, 2006. On the other side, you’ll see pictures flashing of Matt.
Matt lost his sight at the age of five. He received his BA from NYU, an MPA from the Wagner School for Public Service of New York. He was the co-executive director for the Queens Independent Living Center. He developed the computer system linking the six ILCs located in the five boroughs. In 2013, a playground on the Upper West Side was renamed in his honor; and under his leadership, Disability Mentoring Day was an annual event.
This focus on assisting disabled people who either wanted to return to the workforce or enter for the first time the opportunity to test the waters. Matt and I had a lot of conversations on this; actually, we spoke a lot since his days at the Queens center. He had the ability to make you feel like you were close friends. Because of Matt, I knew I could still do my job after I lost the sight in my left side.
So, with that said, we are here to observe this national event celebrated every October 15th since 1964. In 2016, former President Obama issued a proclamation declaring October 15th to be the Blind Americans Equality Day. Can we get like an applause on that?
Okay? Thank you. This is a day to not only raise awareness but also to acknowledge the resilience and strength of those in our community who use white canes to navigate a world that is sometimes not designed with their needs in mind. In my role as commissioner for the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, I’ve had the privilege of working with remarkable individuals and organizations dedicated to improving the lives of New Yorkers with disabilities.
Together we have been advancing accessibility, inclusivity and understanding in our city. White Cane Awareness Day / Blind Americans Equality Day is a testament to our collective commitment to this cause. The white cane is a powerful symbol of independence and freedom. It empowers individuals with visual impairments to move forward with confidence, to pursue their passions and to actively engage in our vibrant city.
But it’s not just about the cane itself, it’s about the society that embraces and supports those who use it. We have made progress in making New York City more accessible, but our work is far from over.
Okay? We must continue to break down barriers and eliminate discrimination and foster a culture of inclusivity. This requires a shared commitment from all of us across the public and private sectors to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential. Remember, nothing about us without us.
So, as we come together tonight to celebrate this day, let us renew our commitment to building a city where every New Yorker can flourish regardless of their abilities. Together we can create a more equitable, inclusive, and accessible future. Thank you for being here and your dedication to this important cause.
And now, without further ado, I’d like to introduce my boss, the mayor of the greatest city in the world, Mayor Eric Adams.
Mayor Eric Adams: Thank you so much. Really, really exciting today to be here. Before I begin, I want to describe myself. I am a good‑looking brown‑skinned man wearing a purple paisley tie with a gray suit, and just enjoy giving a nice smile. I have a clean-shaven head. And I am just happy to be here today. And this is just such an historic moment, and I think the commissioner said it best. Not only is she a history-making commissioner, the first female commissioner of MOPD of color with hearing and visual disabilities, but she’s just a pioneer and she keeps us focused on so many of the great initiatives that we are putting in place.
I want to thank our partners — I know they’re here somewhere — EmblemHealth. EmblemHealth sponsors so many events for us. Give it up for them, because they are real partners with us. So, welcome to the people’s house. Tonight, we celebrate White Cane Awareness Day and we celebrate our blind and low vision brothers and sisters throughout the city. And we are a big believer that this city belongs to everyone, and it should not be limited by any means. And you’re going to see some of the initiatives that we’re putting in place that we’re not going to just talk about it, we’re going to be about it, and open the doors and allow accessibility throughout this entire city.
And as the commissioner stated, you know, I was doing some of his work when I was in Borough Hall with one of the visually impaired schools on Eastern Parkway finding new innovations and new ways of using our white canes. Think about how much our white canes have not changed throughout the generations. You know, they’ve been folding devices with not integrating artificial intelligence, not integrating new technology. It’s probably one of the few devices that they have basically remained the same.
And we need to really encourage all of our tech experts, all of those who are part of innovation. We need to lean into the power of that white cane to allow it to do far more than just having you navigate your way throughout the city and throughout the country. And there’s a real possibility that you’re going to be seeing some exciting things that are coming from those powerful white canes that have been your constant companion for many years.
And so we know that these canes represent your lives and represent your independence and represent some of the directions that you want to see our city continue to improve on. They enable our brothers and sisters to navigate the world, pursue their dreams and live life on their own terms. Every day our administration continues to fight to ensure we have equality, dignity and opportunity for all, including those with low vision and visually impaired, because this city can’t be great if only some can appreciate what it has to offer. We are the number one city on the globe. If we get it right, the entire globe will get it right.
And this is why we must continue to make New York City the most accessible in the world. We made significant strides in improving accessibility, but there’s more work to be done and we’re going to do that. So, White Cane Awareness Day is not just about acknowledging the challenges faced by those with vision disabilities, it is about redoubling our efforts to ensure our city is a beacon of inclusiveness throughout this entire five boroughs.
And so listen. The first, of my knowledge, mayor that is dealing with dyslexia. I know what it is to have systems that believe we’re all one dimensional. I am not incapable of learning, I learn differently, and that’s why we need to understand how we move about life is not what we’re incapable of but how we do things differently; and because of that, we can move us all forward together.
In my State of the City address, I announced that we will be launching a new center for workplace accessibility inclusion next year. This is something that I’m so excited about.
This center will have a dedicated team that will connect 2,500 disabled people to jobs, help employers make their workplace more accessible. And tonight we honor a champion and trailblazer for New York City disabled and low vision community. We’re so excited by honoring the former MOPD commissioner, Matthew Sapolin, and his strides that he made. He was a pioneer. Long before people were willing to address this important issue, he was there doing it.
He led the first Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. He was responsible for pushing York City’s building codes to be more accommodating and accessible for people with disabilities, including creating the Inclusive Design Guidelines of New York City. Matthew also pushed through critical legislation that created rent control for people with disabilities on fixed incomes — a huge, huge battle that was won by him.
Leading the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities was a labor of love for Matthew, and it was personal: he was blind, and he fought for the rights of his brothers and sisters in the disability community. His legacy and impact on this city are immeasurable. And we miss him every day. We are proud to be here today, and I want to ask you to join me in inviting to the stage to give him a proclamation, Candra Sapolin and her son Trevor to accept this proclamation on behalf of our good friend, former Commissioner Matthew Sapolin.
Trevor Sapolin: I just want to thank everybody for coming out tonight, and just want to show my appreciation for everybody in the disabilities community. You guys are what have helped my dad move leaps and bounds above everybody else in being able to push the disabilities community forward and making these things happen. It wasn’t possible without you guys, so thank you guys. And have a great one. Thank you.
Mayor Adams: Thank you. There’s a lot of food. Enjoy the food and the wine.
October 19, 2023