This summer, a new rallying cry in the decades long disability rights movement was announced. Lawrence Carter-Long, Executive Director of the Disability Network of NYC, announced from the podium at the first ever NYC Disability Summit that for too long the mantra of the movement had been "Nothing about us without us"; now, with over 1 million people with a disability living in New York City, the new mantra must be "Nothing without us, period."
A team of students from the CUNY Institute for Virtual Enterprise and the CUNY Coalition for Students with Disability were in attendance at the event at NYU's Kimmel Center on July 28th, which was sponsored by the Fund for the City of New York and the Disability Network of NYC, and which featured keynote remarks from both Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Comptroller William Thompson. The team of students was there as part of their ongoing entrepreneurial endeavor, Accessible New York, which aims to bring people with disabilities to the tourism and hospitality marketplace through on-the-ground accessibility assessments, a web-based information resource, and social networking.
The Disability Summit was aimed at bringing together disparate groups of people with different types of disabilities as well as people who work in the governmental and private sectors providing service to people with disabilities, in hopes of forging coalitions and unified strategies to address the very real problems that people with disabilities face, with a focus on issues of inclusion, transportation, and housing. The Accessible New York team was there to gain insight into and information about the community that they are developing a business strategy to serve.
During the daylong event, the students engaged with both the panelists and their fellow attendees, as each panel was interspersed with highly structured discussion sessions that featured shifting role assignments for group members, poignant questions for consideration, and two dozen easel pads used to record inspirations and inquiries alike. On this steamy Tuesday in July, when even the powerful central air conditioning of one of Greenwich Village's newest high-rises could not keep the heat at bay, these passionate students networked, learned, listened, and offered their own perspectives at one of the most significant gatherings ever of advocates for people with disabilities in New York City.
The Accessible New York team aims to hold their own conference in the fall at which they will launch their website, which is currently in the development phase. The First Annual Disability Summit not only informed their process for developing a business strategy and improved understanding of their customer base, but also provided a model for the type of event that could truly serve to engage the disability community in New York City in an ongoing dialogue with the hospitality industry. As population trends continue on their current trajectory and the disability community grows, the hospitality industry will not be able to ignore the growing need for a more accessible New York. This group of CUNY students is poised at the precipice of a new future, one in which people with disabilities can truly say of their city that there is "Nothing without us, period." "
Written by Jesse Lore.