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Empowered Cities Program Seeks to Advance Equity and Opportunity for People with Disabilities

by Jaime Rodriguez, RDPFS Intern

Across the nation, long-standing equity issues like income disparities and the unemployment rate among working-age people who have disabilities have been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. An initiative addressing these issues that began in New York City has expanded to additional municipalities that have become Empowered Cities. This program seeks to empower people with disabilities and their families by promoting financial empowerment and employment, affordable and accessible housing as well as addressing equity issues in healthcare, food insecurity, and more. In New York City, the need for these resources has been underscored during the pandemic, when “the unemployment rate among working-age New Yorkers who identify as having a disability more than doubled…,” while city funding has been cut “to many programs that help people succeed at work.” To help combat such disparities, the New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD), with support from Citi, has spearheaded the development of Empowered Cities to improve the financial health and stability of people with disabilities by providing free professional financial counseling, educational materials, and other services. The model has grown and is now co-chaired by the Offices of Disability in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco. While each of the Empowered Cities has its own initiative, they share key values, including leadership by people with disabilities; catalyzing innovative resources; advancing “locally responsible solutions;” and heightening the collective voice of local leaders. In Boston, for example, the program aims to create a pipeline to train and connect people with disabilities with gainful employment opportunities, based on their skills and interests, while Los Angeles seeks to end disparities in access to food, vaccines, and personal protective equipment, which were exacerbated by the pandemic. The Empowered Cities program is “building a national network of municipal disability leaders who collectively create strategies to improve the lives of people with disabilities and attempt to mitigate any issues they may face due to accessibility, poverty, and the digital divide.” To learn more, check out the Empowered Cities webpage, here. For additional details regarding the challenges in New York City, read The City article, “Unemployment Soars for New Yorkers With Disabilities as Challenges Outweigh New Opportunities.”