NY bill would remove "handicapped accessible" from signs

ALBANY State legislators and advocates for the disabled on Monday pushed legislation that would change the traditional "handicapped accessible" sign picture and also remove the word "handicapped" from the signs.

Advocates said the word "handicapped" is outdated and offensive to the disabled. The new sign portrays a person in a wheelchair in motion. The bills propose replacing the olds signs with signs that have the new symbol when the old sign become damaged and need to be replaced anyways.

Bills were introduced into the state Senate and state Assembly and are sponsored by Assemblywoman Sandra Galef, D-Ossining, Westchester County, and Sen. David Carlucci, D-Clarkstown, Rockland County.

They said the new signs would not need any extra funding from the state, and the new symbol has already begun being implemented in New York City and in other countries around the world.

"The goal of this legislation is to eliminate the picture and the perception that people with disabilities are immobile and that they don't live full and productive lives as New Yorkers," Galef said at a press conference.

Galef and Carlucci in Albany pushed the legislation on the state Assembly Legislative Disabilities Awareness Day.

"We've got to move in a new direction and make sure we're updating our laws," Carlucci said. "Today we have a new idea of what it means to be living with a disability and we want to get rid of [the word 'handicapped'] and say that we have 'accessibility' and that's what these new signs will be."

Westchester advocates for the disabled touted the bill.

"There really isn't any doubt that the word has negative connotations," said Mevlin Tanzman, executive director of Westchester Disabled on the Move. "I do appreciate this bill. Words have power and images have power and I think these new words and images are really a great step forward."

"Handicapped sounds like a problem or an issue. Accessible is something that should be provided to all people. It should be a positive experience," says Frank Cammarata.

Cammarata runs the Erie County Office for the Disabled. He likes how the state wants to change the sometimes negative perceptions about people living with disabilities.

Cammarata says approximately 20-percent of our community has a disability and that group is the largest minority that anyone can join at any time of their life.

"You and I can be walking out onto the street. You never know what's going to happen to you. You could then join that disability community in an instant. So it's not just a word, and it's something that should be taken very seriously, and it's about respect for all," he says.

But, some people think the proposed changes do not go far enough.

The director of The Museum of disABILITY History in Buffalo takes up issue with the blue and white symbol.

"I don't think the disabled person should be defined by the fact that they use a wheelchair. Obviously, they have a lot of other character traits that are important to their identity as well, but I understand where they have to find something to use, but it's not the best thing," says Doug Farley.

Cammarata thinks the new signs would show that people living with disabilities in New York have many opportunities in the community to lead active lives.

"I think a sign can change people. A sign stands for something. It means something to people," says Cammarata.

It's unclear whether the legislation will be adopted before the legislative session ends in late June. If approved, it would need to be signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.


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