BCIL believes that greater independence for people with disabilities is a key social justice issue and that people with disabilities must unite to speak out on larger issues that affect our lives such as housing, healthcare, and transportation access. We employ community organizers to foster civic engagement by developing leadership and advocacy skills within the disability community, and by working with this group to advocate for changes in policies and programs that affect people with disabilities. BCIL organizes periodic events to discuss and prioritize issues impacting the disability community. The result has been stronger, larger and more effective grassroots advocacy campaigns.
Improving access to the MBTA. BCIL and its partner in MBTA advocacy, Greater Boston Legal Services, settled a landmark class-action lawsuit against the MBTA for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2006. Public transportation service was essentially off limits to many people with disabilities, denying them reliable access to jobs, cultural offerings, educational opportunities and recreation. Well over $300 million has been spent by the MBTA to improve access to buses, subways, and stations, and MBTA management is demonstrating a commitment to overhaul how they serve customers with disabilities. Some of the gains that have upgraded the system include:
- Improved system-wide elevator performance, now operating at near 100% capacity
- Installation of redundant elevators at key stations
- Procurement of 310 new low-floor buses, improved vehicle maintenance, ensuring operating bus lifts.
- Retraining of MBTA personnel in providing service to customers with disabilities
- Development of a comprehensive internal access monitoring program
- Creation of the Department of System-Wide Accessibility
- Development of a plan to reduce subway platform gaps in order to eliminate obstructions impeding wheelchair users access
- Improved Green Line access
Protecting the Personal Care Attendant program and supporting affordable healthcare. PCA Quality Workforce Council legislation establishes a registry of PCAs, making it easier for disabled individuals to find a PCA. The legislation also allows for collective bargaining and improved compensation for PCAs. More than 30,000 people utilize over 35,000 Personal Care Attendants each year in Massachusetts in order to maximize their independence, stay out of institutional settings, raise families, pursue jobs and continue schooling.
Promoting municipal access. BCIL has sought compliance by the City of Boston with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). On the 18th anniversary of the signing of the ADA, Mayor Menino announced a $20 million commitment from the city to fix curb cuts and pedestrian ramps that are not up to ADA codes. Language that requires ADA compliance was added to all Public Works contracts, and projects that go through the Public Improvement Commission. In response to BCIL advocacy there is an ongoing city effort to improve polling access. Through our work with the Disability Law Center (DLC) the city has moved 35 sites to accessible locations, while barriers at other sites are being addressed by use of portable ramps and special threshold mats. The city now has Automark machines at all polling sites, with employees trained on how to use them. Through meetings with city officials, combined with poll monitoring by our members, BCIL is helping the city move forward and ensure that disability is not a barrier to exercising one’s right to vote.
Increasing affordable, accessible housing. Housing is the number-one issue for people contacting BCIL for assistance. Our advocacy efforts have generated millions of dollars for programs that support integrated, accessible, and affordable housing for people with disabilities, including the Home Modification Loan Program, the Community Based Housing Program, and the Alternative Housing Voucher Program. But even with these successes, housing remains a crisis concern for people with disabilities. BCIL is currently advocating for increased funding for the Alternative Housing Voucher Program (AHVP), which provides rental assistance to low-income people with disabilities. To become involved or be a supporter email contactBCIL@bostoncil.org.
Supporting the grassroots work of MassADAPT. ADAPT is a national grass-roots community that organizes disability rights activists to engage in nonviolent direct action, including civil disobedience, to assure the civil and human rights of people with disabilities to live in freedom. BCIL offers technical assistance and support for the Boston-area chapter, MassADAPT, whose members meet monthly, lead local actions, and participate in national ADAPT actions across the country each fall and spring, and develop their own advocacy agenda. MassADAPT is currently working on state and national priorities, including building support for Massachusetts to accept the Community First Choice initiative under the Affordable Care Act, and pushing for the Community Integration Act, legislation introduced in Congress in summer 2014. Both Community First Choice and the Community Integration Act are designed to allow people with disabilities to live freely in the community, rather than confined in nursing homes and other institutions.