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Why the City of Philadelphia formed the new Mayor’s Office on People with Disabilities

Philadelphia City Council and others city staffers celebrate a disability pride flag raising in June 2017. April 12, 2018 Category: FeaturedMediumResults
Since 1986, the Mayor’s Commission for People with Disabilities (MOCD) has served as a go-between of the disability community and the City of Philadelphia.

The commission has been both a forum through which people with disabilities could be referred to local services and a sounding board for a community often ignored in public discussions. Its mayor-appointed members include representatives from local nonprofits and businesses serving those with disabilities, including from the Philadelphia School for the Deaf and several lawyers.

In September 2017, Mayor Jim Kenney signed Executive Order 7-17, officially instating the Mayor’s Office on People with Disabilities (MOPD). The office, housed under the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI), is meant to establish “a permanent office operating to advance strategic policies and programs,” according to a March press release.

(Though it was formed in the fall, city spokesperson Ajeenah Amir said the news was only publicly shared this spring because the office’s restructuring and hiring wasn’t yet finished.)

But since a commission on the topic already existed, what’s the strategy here?

“Data that we saw from the [city report] Assessment of Fair Housing in 2016 reported that people with disabilities comprise roughly 16 percent of the population here in Philadelphia,” said Deputy Diversion and Inclusion Officer Nefertiri Sickout. “Focusing on services for people with disabilities is a high priority, and because of that priority, our focus the past year and a half has been on looking at best practices across the nation.”

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The commission, in its history, and in adherence to previous executive orders, has typically existed to advise on city-run programs and provide constituent services. Thorough examination of both internal infrastructure and national praxis exhibited it was time for a change: The office will take a more technical role than the commission could in supporting the city’s compliance with the American Disability Act (ADA), the Fair Housing Act and other laws defending the rights of people with disabilities.

“It’s best practice for that type of work to be separated out into a stand-alone Mayor’s Office on People with Disability,” said Sickout.

Constituent services and planning now lives in the office, while the commission — housed within the office — serves as an advisory board.

Compliance vet Charles Horton, who has held many titles and responsibilities in his 20-year ODI history, serves as both executive director of the MOPD and chair of the commission.

“We’re in the process now of speaking with our current members, and figuring out who wants to continue on in service,” said Sickout. Current commission members serve until April 30, and new members must be reappointed by May 1.

Two new positions were installed in the ODI: the City-Wide Title II American Disability Act Coordinator and the Constituent Services Coordinator, filled by Daniel Lopez Jr., and Claudia Tasco, respectively.

Other changes include an updated citywide ADA self-evaluation report and transition plan. City self-evaluations are required for each city by the Americans with Disability Act of 1990.

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