Task force could improve life for Nassau County residents with disabilities


A new group in the early stages of formation could help improve the lives of Nassau County residents with disabilities.

Advocates for those with disabilities, residents and members of the County Legislature gathered last week to announced a bipartisan bill that would create a Disabilities Awareness Advisory Group. If approved by the full Legislature next month, the group would meet quarterly to discuss how the county could operate more effectively for those with disabilities.

The bill is expected to come before a legislative committee on Sept. 13, and to be considered by the full Legislature on Sept. 24.

Legislator Steve Rhoads, a Republican from Bellmore, said that seven members of the 15-member advisory group would be required to have one or more disabilities, or be representatives of organizations that provide service or advocate on behalf of people with disabilities. There would also be non-voting members from numerous county departments, Rhoads said.

“This is an opportunity for the Legislature to listen to those who face issues and problems every single day,” he said, “to give us advice on how we can do our job better, how we can advocate for them and how we can provide better access to the county’s programs and services.

Gina Barbara, an advocate for those with disabilities and a Wantagh resident, has been working to improve the lives of those with disabilities for several years. Six years ago, Barbara approached county officials to make her case. She requested that the county work to improve public transportation for those with disabilities and senior citizens.

Barbara said she was excited to see the direction that the Legislature is taking. “There needs to be more listening at the county level,” she said. “The disabled community and the senior community is a minority. We’re aware of that. But if we can get this bill to make things a little bit stronger, a little bit louder for us, great.”

Legislator Bill Gaylor, a Republican from Lynbrook, cosponsored the bill. In a press release, Gaylor stated that he was looking forward to “working with advocates and residents to bring about meaningful change in Nassau.

“We want to let everyone know that no matter your disability, here at the Legislature, you have a voice,” he said.

Under current policies, the Nassau Inter-County Express Able-Ride minibus service is available only to those who live no farther than three-quarters of a mile from a bus route. Otherwise, they do not qualify for the service.

“There are areas of Nassau County where individuals do not have access to Able-Ride at all,” Rhoads said. “You can’t use Uber or Lyft, so how are you supposed to be able to get around if you can’t rely on family and friends to do that for you?”

Barbara said she hoped to see the Able-Ride service rectified by the advisory group. She said she would love to see more accessibility at Jones Beach State Park — like the creation of Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramps at all fields. Beyond transportation, she said she hoped the group would work to improve education, health services and more.

“This is not about me,” Barbara said. “This is for the disability community, who always get the short end of the stick.”

In 2019, Barbara announced that she was running for the County Legislature’s 19th District seat, which is currently occupied by Rhoads. She is also a member of Downstate NY ADAPT, a grass-roots movement that organizes nonviolent disability-rights activities to promote change.

Therese Brzezinski, director of planning and public policy for the Long Island Center for Independent Living, said the formation of the advisory group would be a positive step in the right direction for Nassau County.

“From my perspective as a longtime advocate for our community, I would emphasize that such a body must include and amplify the voices of people with disabilities who live the experience every day,” Brzezinski said. “Those voices should represent a broad cross-section of the extremely diverse disability community as it exists in Nassau County.

Those interested in joining the advisory group will be allowed to apply after the law is passed. For additional information about the application process, contact your local legislator.