by Ken Stewart

In New York state, the comptroller is one of only four officials elected statewide; the others are the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. The comptroller has broad constitutional powers not only to watch over fiscal affairs but also to evaluate governmental operations. As an administrator for several state agencies, I witnessed the intensity and thoroughness of the teams of state auditors, and the stinging press releases which were among the products of their work long afterward.

Reading the newsletter of one of the multi-disability organizations to which I belong, I noted an item reporting on one of those program audits. It was in an area of governmental services close to my advocacy-heart, transportation.

The newsletter of Disabled In Action of Metropolitan New York, "The Activist," reported that audit #S-69, conducted in 2001, looked at the accessibility of New York City subways as required by the ADA.. I immediately telephoned the Office of the State Comptroller and my request for a copy of the document was greeted with gracious willingness, and a copy was mailed out to me. But my inquiry into the possibility of the same document in an alternate format received gracious befuddlement. The telephone exchange ended with a gracious, "We'll look into it."

A month later no audit report in an alternate format had arrived but with some help from my CCTV and a great deal of help from a volunteer reader, I had perused the entire report. While it was titled, "The Accessibility of New York City Subways," I found not one reference to any accessibility issues pertaining to any other disability than mobility impairment. No attention to signage visibility or braille, no check for audible aspects of turnstile display information, no consideration of P.A. attributes for people with hearing loss, no evaluation of features to aid the travel of people with cognitive impairments, not even any notation of the presence or absence of appropriate platform edge detectable warning strips.

My subsequent letter to the comptroller suggested three possible explanations for audit report #S-69: Either the audit is actually unfinished, accessibility for other disability categories yet to be rated; it was simply mistitled, too ambitiously, instead of Mobility Accessibility in Subways; or the comptroller's staff needs some help (which I offered) understanding that accessibility means more than how well a wheelchair gets around the system. I also reminded him that his office, like other governmental entities, is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, legislation which was the backdrop of my not-yet-satisfied request for that audit report in an accessible format.

(Editor's Note: Ken reports that his follow-up letter seven months later got results. It hinted that intervention from outside political officials might be sought. There was an immediate phone response from the state comptroller's office. The caller, the agency's director of intergovernmental affairs, was very gracious and agreeable. He committed his organization to review its policy (or lack thereof) on making documents available in accessible formats, and to educating its audit staff on the difference between wheelchair users and the broad spectrum of people with disabilities, with other kinds of mobility limitations, and others who are covered under the ADA. Stay tuned!)

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