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Workers with Disabilities Essential in the Pandemic
May 5, 2020

Workers with Disabilities Essential in the Pandemic

Guest Column, Albany Business Review, 5/1/2020

At a time when gratitude is owed to so many for keeping our communities safe and healthy, we need to count among that group individuals with disabilities who are serving as essential workers of Governor Cuomo’s New York on PAUSE emergency plan.

Many of these individuals are working the front lines of the COVID-19 health crisis by providing vital custodial services at public spaces and at health facilities charged with testing and patient care. Others are packaging gloves, sanitizing products and other protective supplies that ensure safety for end users.

As President & CEO of New York State Industries for the Disabled, Inc. (NYSID), I couldn’t be prouder. Our membership of 153 Member Agencies and Corporate Partners statewide serves individuals with disabilities, and through this membership allows these organizations to provide employment opportunities to those they serve. This partnership has put thousands of individuals with disabilities to work for over 45 years. During this COVID-19 crisis, these reliable workers are stepping up. 

Locally, we can look to the Corning Tower at the Empire State Plaza and NYS Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center public health lab as examples. Teams of custodians with disabilities are safeguarding these sites by sanitizing high touch areas like doorways and keypads while maintaining appropriate social distancing. Workers were chosen for these teams because of a strong work ethic and commitment to be of essential service. One individual on the Tower COVID-19 crew says, “The chance to perform a duty that truly makes a difference really gives us a true sense of pride and personal fulfillment.”

This dedication also can be seen at the COVID-19 testing site established by the NYS Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Services on the University at Albany campus. It is also evident where services are being provided at the Albany County Health Department and at NYS Office of General Services buildings.

And it is not just happening locally. The pride and diligence that nearly 1200 individuals with disabilities are putting into safeguarding communities is visible across the state. Those sites include individual stations operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 12 downstate counties, the country’s largest transportation network. It encompasses over 50 NYC Fire Department Emergency Medical Services stations throughout four boroughs, where custodians are charged with keeping first responder sites safe and sanitized. It extends out to Stony Brook University Hospital on Long Island where custodians are cleaning tents at a drive-in COVID-19 testing center. And it includes keeping the vast network of transportation rest areas across the state accessible and sanitary.

In the best of times, individuals with disabilities are the most vulnerable and under-employed segment of New York’s population. Yet here they are, working in stressful and critically important environments to safeguard us all. They care about the health, safety and quality of life where they live and work, and it shows. We can’t thank them enough for their service to our state’s coronavirus emergency and their sacrifice on behalf of all New Yorkers.