Eman Rimawi-Doster Testifies on Employment of People With Disabilities

Disability Justice, News

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest* 151 West 30th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10001-4017* tel: (212) 244-4664 fax: (212) 244-4570 

Comments by 

Eman Rimawi, Access-A-Ride Coordinator and Organizer 

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Disability Justice Program on 

Employment of, and Accessibility for, Persons with Disabilities 

before the 

Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities and Addiction 

September 28, 2022 

Thank you Council Members Lee, Brewer, Gennaro, Hanif, Hudson, Lewis, Powers, Riley, Sanchez, and Ung for listening to our concerns about employment and access for people with disabilities.

My name is Eman Rimawi-Doster and I am the Access-A-Ride Coordinator and Organizer at the Disability Justice Program of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI), which has advocated for over 45 years for the rights of persons with disabilities in New York.

If you think unemployment is generally bad, it’s even worse in the disability community. The most recent report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that only 19.1 percent of persons with disabilities were employed.1

Instead of being reactive, we need to change our approach and be proactive. Employers must send job listings to organizations and agencies that may come in contact with individuals with disabilities, including independent living centers, college disability offices, and state vocational rehabilitation agencies. 

I tried obtaining employment help from disability advocacy organizations, which told me time and time again that, because I “didn’t have mental problems” and was “overqualified” for many available jobs for people with disabilities, I couldn’t get help and I had to just “be patient” as I searched and applied alone! Even the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) merely told me to join my Community Board and become its president! That was in 2017. I got no referrals and no one told me about the independent living centers – organizations that are run by people with disabilities and exist in every borough. We need to connect people with disabilities to advocacy organizations that actually assist in finding employment, and we need to adequately fund those organizations. 

And by the way, I received zero help to keep my Medicaid – the lifeline for people with severe disabilities – when I found work. We need to help people with disabilities retain Medicaid when they start working. 

Historically, I have never had an issue getting in the door for a job. But once I got hired, and they could see my lupus flare-ups, employers would change their tune and suddenly say and do things that would be deemed discriminatory. I wasn’t believed by one employer when I was having mini-strokes and nearly died. I wasn’t accommodated while working at a different organization when I asked to work from home once a week, which led to me pushing myself to come into the office and finally quitting because it wasn’t worth the physical pain it was causing me. And one of the last organizations I worked at, a few years before I began at NYLPI, wouldn’t allow me to go part time, and literally told me, “push through your pain and exhaustion because we need you here full time.” I ultimately quit that job too, which is often what people with disabilities in my situation are forced to do. I’m educated. I have an extensive amount of organizing and facilitation experience. I’ve worked for a number of nonprofits and agencies throughout the city since 2000. I’ve been around the world and I’ve made all kinds of contacts with whom I still talk and with whom I continue to work. And while doing all of that, I had, and still have, Lupus.

But having Lupus for 24 years, and being an amputee for the last nine years, has shown me just how strong ableism is. I’ve been treated like my accessibility asks are too much, when they’re always reasonable and adhere to Americans with Disabilities Act (and city and state non discrimination law) requirements. I’ve been made to feel bad or wrong when I’ve addressed discrimination which I knew was there. Employers must be aware of the requirements of disability laws and they must provide people with disabilities with the necessary supports and accommodations to perform their jobs. 

I’ve been making it work for five years at NYLPI. NYLPI has seen the dedication I have put into my work every day. Not only does my work get results, but it gets NYLPI media coverage on a regular basis, so that we can educate broadly about how crucial disability rights are. I just

needed someone to give me a chance and believe me and believe in me. And accommodate me pursuant to non-discrimination law mandates.

NYLPI strongly supports Int. 0681-2022 and Int. 0682-2022, but offers the following suggestions to make them even stronger:

  • Insert findings regarding unemployment and underemployment of people with disabilities, as well as statistics regarding exclusion of people with disabilities due to lack of access.

Int. 0681-2022

  • Mandate that MOPD compile lists of specific jobs around the city, post them on their website, and update them in real time.
  • Mandate that MOPD offer regular information sessions to employers regarding workplace accommodations for persons with disabilities, rather than offer such sessions solely in response to requests for the sessions by employers.

Int. 0682-2022

  • Mandate that the accessibility plans also include data related to the number of persons with disabilities in the employ of each department, office, and agency, disaggregated by race and gender, in order to uplift intersectional diversity.
  • Add incentives to ensure compliance with the accessibility plan mandate, and remove the disincentive which promotes non-compliance by mandating that MOPD create and submit an accessibility plan on behalf of offices, departments, and agencies that fail to create and submit their own plans.

My plea to you is not only that you pass Int. 0681-2022 and Int. 0682-2022 – with our above proposed amendments – but that you also find a way to hold businesses accountable to the bills’ mandates. If we don’t hold people accountable on multiple levels, the most vulnerable among us will never get help. Yes, I’m capable. At the same time, I’m still disabled, and Black, and Palestinian, and a woman, which means I — and many others like me — are more susceptible to intersectional discrimination. So we need to make sure we put protections in place for people like me. I’m still a New Yorker who pays my bills, shops at local businesses, orders from local restaurants, and engages with my neighbors. Why should I be treated any differently, simply because I have Lupus and am an amputee?

 

About New York Lawyers for the Public Interest

For over 40 years, NYLPI has been a leading civil rights and legal services advocate for New Yorkers marginalized by race, poverty, disability, and immigration status. Through our community lawyering model, we bridge the gap between traditional civil legal services and civil rights, building strength and capacity for both individual solutions and long-term impact. Our work integrates the power of individual representation, impact litigation, organizing, and policy campaigns. Guided by the priorities of our communities, we strive to achieve equality of opportunity and self-determination for people with disabilities, secure environmental justice for

low-income communities of color, create equal access to health care, ensure immigrant opportunity, and strengthen local nonprofits. Through our Disability Justice Program, we fight for eliminating discrimination against New Yorkers with disabilities in all walks of life.


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