Monday, November 2, 2015

Report on Activity at Western New York Independent Living (WNYIL) in October, by Alec Frazier and Autistic Reality

In this blog post, I shall inform you of what I have been doing lately to promote the independent living agenda. I volunteer at Western New York Independent Living (WNYIL) in Buffalo, New York in the systems change and public policy department. Here are some of the things I have done in the last month.
I started off with a bang, by hosting local politicians for a meeting to inform them of disability rights and independent living issues. A number of staffers for politicians showed up, as well as one of the politicians himself. Because it was a meeting of only about five people, myself and my supervisor at WNYIL, Todd Vaarwerk, spoke to the politician and the assistants about issues such as housing, employment, representation, transportation, education, and general quality of life for the disabled population. The meeting was a success, and at least one of the politicians has since reached out to us for future collaboration.
One of my other early tasks this month was to draft a letter to the member of the state Board of Regents for education who represents this area, who in this case is Catherine Collins. I had to approach the matter as if she has never heard of independent living before, because for all we know, she hasn’t. I had to go into a basic overview of independent living philosophy, as well as why the independent living movement considers education to be so pivotal. Education is a formative process in each child’s life, and shape so they become as an adult person. In order to properly serve the disability community better, we must improve the state of education in general but also specifically as it pertains to educating the disabled.
For most of the remainder of the month, I have been involved in a very fascinating project. People often come to Western New York Independent Living to complain about inaccessible pathways, especially during inclement weather. Certainly, Buffalo, New York and the surrounding areas have plenty of inclement weather. Last year, the southern part of Erie County actually boasted the United States record for snowfall in one day when about sixteen feet of snow fell on the rural areas around Hamburg, New York. Because of this, my job for most of this month has been to search city, town, and village codes to find whom is responsible for receiving notification of pathways that have become inundated by snow and remain inaccessible to the public. Many people may find the job dull and boring. However, I am a political science graduate who loves learning about codes of law, and I am anxiously devouring the opportunity to learn more about local codes. The next step after finding out who is accountable in each case will be to compile a spreadsheet of whom to contact in each locality.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown Proclaiming the Green Code
On Thursday, October 22, 2015, I headed to Larkin Square in Buffalo, New York for the proclamation of Buffalo’s Green Code. I will admit that I did not know much about what this proclamation would involve. I figured that some officials would be there, including the city director of planning. When I got there, I was pleasantly surprised by the wonderful state of the neighborhood. Larkin Square is at the center of the former Larkin Soap Company. Many of the surrounding buildings had been factories, and nearby there is a remnant of the first modern office building, the Larkin Administration Building by America’s most famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. I soon realized that the entire neighborhood is filled with restaurants, galleries, and apartments. There are many places to hang out outdoors, pleasant seating arrangements, free wireless Internet, and plenty of outdoor electrical outlets. The reason I mention this is because only five years ago, Larkin Square was a slum. The current mayor of Buffalo, Byron Brown, took a vested interest in improving the Larkin Square neighborhood. Within that framework, he stood at the podium surrounded by key city and local officials and presented the Green Code as Buffalo’s first plan for urban development in over 60 years. It is sorely needed! In my time living in this town, I have realized the importance of the arts, entertainment, and nightlife communities, as well as the importance of having clean, safe places to live and work. All statistical data shows that Buffalo is beginning an upward swing. If carried out properly, the Green Code will allow for Buffalo to improve and prosper in much the same fashion that Larkin Square has. Mayor Brown also let other key members of the community speak, including the President of City Council, the Director of Fun at Larkinville, and the Dean of the UB School of Architecture. Mayor Brown made sure to prominently mention the support of the disability community and our key role in drafting the Green Code. Throughout the speaking engagements, I took photographs. Afterwards, I handed them over to WNYIL’s Community Engagement department. After all the speaking was done, I introduced myself to Mayor Brown, and thanked him for involving the disability community in the decision-making process. I also complemented him on the positive development of the life of Buffalo in the past several years. We exchanged business cards.
On October 29, 2015, I represented Western New York Independent Living at a meeting of the Disability Advisory Committee to the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA), the local and regional organization that does transportation for Erie and Niagara Counties, as well as other areas. The NFTA manages several dozen buses, the Buffalo international airport, the Niagara Falls regional airport, the Metropolitan subway through Buffalo, and a great deal of water transportation. They also manage school buses for the Buffalo area. They are required to consult with the disability community, which is why this advisory committee exists. This committee usually meets at one of the offices of Western New York Independent Living. At this particular meeting, George W. Gast, the chief of police for the NFTA was present, and gave an overview of his department, as well as addressing the concerns of various members about particular incidents as well as general security policy. One person in particular had a bone to pick about an incident that had taken place. It wasn’t a very major incident, but she was extremely dissatisfied with the service provided by the NFTA police. Once her issue was dealt with, the police chief answered questions about his cooperation with the Buffalo Police Department, various campus police departments, and most prudent courses of action in reporting various crimes. For example, he pointed out that his department usually refers student cases to campus police instead of the Buffalo Police Department. The reasoning is that the penalties dealt by campus police are often much more effective in deterring student crime. He also pointed out that minor violations such as illegal parking at stations and other sundry offenses are much better reported to the NFTA police instead of the Buffalo Police Department. His explanation was that the Buffalo Police Department would place an extremely low priority on such offenses, while they are actually the point of his Police Department, and would be dealt with swiftly. Throughout his time at the meeting, he provided various statistics to illustrate points about his department. Once he left, nothing mentioned for the remainder of the meeting was very noteworthy.

This month at work has been both fun and productive. Yes, there were some tense moments, but I appreciate the work I am doing for others and the knowledge I am gaining for myself and my future.
This blog posting is both the personal opinion of Alec Frazier, and the professional policy of his advocacy firm, Autistic Reality. If you oppose it, please screen grab it! We are very proud of this opinion!

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