Mayoral Candidates Questionnaire Results on Disability Topics

Coordinated by Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago

The survey questions below are intended to gauge the mayoral candidates’ interest in and understanding of key issues that impact the lives of Chicagoans with disabilities. All five of the candidates certified by the Chicago Board of Elections responded (in alphabetical order of last name): incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Alderman Robert “Bob” Fioretti, Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, William “Dock” Walls and Dr. Willie Wilson.

The first set of questions are Yes/No, and the second set are open-ended.

Section 1: Yes/No Questions

1. Will you support a strategic effort to make all CPS schools physically accessible to all people? Only about 385 schools are currently accessible, out of 522 district schools (does not include charter or contract schools).

Emanuel: Yes
Fioretti: Yes
Garcia: Yes
Walls: Yes
Wilson: Yes

2. Do you support increasing the amount of money going into home modifications to meet community demand for accessible housing? In 2014, the City of Chicago was able to modify only 74 units, but the demand by disabled residents is far greater.

Emanuel: Yes
Fioretti: Yes
Garcia: Yes
Walls: Yes
Wilson: Yes

3. Do you support city-funded health clinics being mandated to invest in accessible medical equipment? Examples include accessible exam tables, accessible x-ray equipment and accessible mammogram machines.

Emanuel: Yes
Fioretti: Yes
Garcia: Yes
Walls: Yes
Wilson: Yes

4. Will you hold CPS accountable for better educational outcomes for students with disabilities? Currently, only 54.5% of “diverse learners” graduate from CPS.

Emanuel: Yes
Fioretti: Yes
Garcia: Yes
Walls: Yes
Wilson: Yes

5. Will you support the use of restorative justice practices designed to be accessible to all students as an important step to eradicating the school to prison pipeline, which disproportionately impacts disabled students? A significant portion of young people in the juvenile justice system have disabilities.

Emanuel: Yes
Fioretti: Yes
Garcia: Yes
Walls: Yes
Wilson: Yes

6. Will you prioritize people with disabilities for accessible units created with city resources? Often, people without disabilities are using existing accessible units.

Emanuel: Yes
Fioretti: Yes
Garcia: Yes
Walls: Yes
Wilson: Yes

7. Will you require the Chicago Housing Authority to create a special admissions policy for 600 people with disabilities to receive vouchers on an annual basis, in order to move out of nursing homes? This would support the state of Illinois in fulfilling its court-ordered obligation under the Colbert consent decree. People living in nursing homes face significant barriers in getting on the CHA waitlists.

Emanuel: Yes
Fioretti: Yes
Garcia: Yes
Walls: Yes
Wilson: Yes

8. Will you work with the Chicago Housing Authority to make sure that when a Chicagoan with a disability forfeits a housing voucher, it goes to another person with a disability?

Emanuel: Yes
Fioretti: Yes
Garcia: Yes
Walls: Yes
Wilson: Yes

9. Will you reopen the City mental health clinics that were closed in 2012?

Emanuel: see response to open ended question #5 below
Fioretti: Yes
Garcia: Yes, see statement below
Walls: Yes
Wilson: Yes

10. Will you encourage City Council to create a task force on increasing employment opportunity for people with disabilities?

Emanuel: Yes
Fioretti: Yes
Garcia: Yes
Walls: Yes
Wilson: Yes

11. Will you nominate people with disabilities to City Boards and Commissions, including the Board of Education and Chicago Transit Authority?

Emanuel: Yes
Fioretti: Yes
Garcia: Yes, see statement below
Walls: Yes
Wilson: Yes

Section 2: Open-Ended Questions
Candidate responses are provided in alphabetical order
by last name.

1. How do you interpret the impact for Chicagoans with disabilities of Governor Rauner’s State of the State proposal for “shared sacrifice” in terms of state funding?

Mayor Emanuel
Governor Bruce Rauner faces some difficult fiscal choices and will need to decide how to prioritize the investments the state will make as he tries to reduce the deficit and pay down debt. I will advocate strongly that he not do this on the back of our children or most vulnerable citizens. Here in Chicago, we have cut the structural deficit in half over four years without raising property, sales, or gas taxes and did it while investing in early education, after school opportunities, and summer jobs. My administration has implemented reforms that have increased the number of accessible taxis while continuing to support programs like the city’s home accessibility modification program. Where necessary, we partnered with federally qualified health care providers to expand options without an additional cost on taxpayers.

Alderman Fioretti
If the new Governor is implying that the state of Illinois will have to make public service cuts to balance the budget, I find the idea completely ludicrous. The people who should be making the most sacrifice during these trying economic times are the privileged residents who can afford it without disruption to their everyday lives. People who rely on public services for basic needs have a much greater requirement and obligation from their government to ensure their well-being.

Commissioner Garcia
For the past decade, we have witnessed and experienced the whittling of funding for state programs for all Illinoisans. Low-income individuals and families seem to take the brunt of cost saving initiatives. If shared sacrifice means deep cuts to state agencies in order to balance the budget and fund pension obligations – this may translate to even fewer services for people with disabilities and the elimination of experts at the state and local level. Chicagoans with disabilities sacrifice every year when cuts in the state budget directly impact funding to communitybased agencies. This is worrisome and devastating. Decreases in program deliverables to residents, specifically people with disabilities, may have long-term, indirect effects to their health and wellbeing that may become costly as we try to rectify providing them services. This also strains the City’s budget as it tries to eliminate the service gap and maintain their service needs. Experience has taught us that shifts to services create indirect effects that change individual and family dynamics as they cope and continue with their daily lives. Many live on a limited income. To purchase services is not an option for some; their sacrifices cannot be easily measured.

“Dock” Walls
Governor Rauner’s concept of shared sacrifice appears to mean those with the least clout will be required to sacrifice the most. This means that persons who are disabled (PWDs), seniors, youth and families living at or below the poverty level, people with low disposable income, those who are in the least position to make another sacrifice of human services and tax money, will be the hardest hit. This could send some residents into a tailspin.

Dr. Wilson
All residents of the state of Illinois will suffer from budget cuts and decreased services; however, in order to eliminate waste and operate on a balanced budget, cuts are necessary. While difficult, the only way to protect the future of our city and state is to operate within our means.

2. In what ways will you use City resources to create housing options that are affordable AND accessible for people with disabilities?

Mayor Emanuel
One of my top priorities is ensuring that middle class families can still afford to live in Chicago. That is why my administration issued its five-year housing plan nearly a year ago that will leverage more than $1 billion in public and private funds to create, preserve, and rehabilitate 41,000 units of housing over five years. For the first time ever, we are now tracking the creation of accessible affordable housing units. Ensuring that homes are accessible is critical to keeping Chicago affordable to people with disabilities, and we are currently reviewing the City’s home modification program for potential expansion. We are also in the process of updating the Chicago’s accessibility code and hope to identify ways to strengthen the requirements for accessible housing units.

Alderman Fioretti
The bottom line is that every Chicagoan has a right to affordable, quality housing. Everyone benefits from integrating people with disabilities into the community. We should explore funding the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities with TIF excess in various channels to improve living conditions for people with disabilities and extending the reach this successful program has throughout the city.

Commissioner Garcia
Besides increasing funding for the home modification programs for people with disabilities (HomeMod) and seniors (SARFS) in order to reach more people, we would specifically target renters with disabilities whose income is less than 15% of the Area Median Income (AMI) to access grants that assist with home modifications. My administration would work with the National Low Income Housing Trust Fund to expand accessible and affordable housing concentrating on increasing Chicago’s non-public rental housing stock in all neighborhoods. There needs to be an educational and awareness program targeted to single-family homeowners educating them on the existing programs that are available to increase accessibility and/or affordability. Working through the CHA and HUD, I would work to pilot a Moving to Opportunity disability accessibility program comprised of at least 20% of new rental and for sale units to be accessible and visitable. We also need to work with CDC’s and developers by offering additional incentives to target renters with disabilities who make less than 20% of the AMI. Lastly, I would create a special initiative-funding program to fund ideas from Chicagoan’s for pilot programs / new initiatives toward increasing affordable and accessible housing. These programs would be targeted to small areas in neighborhoods, which may be expanded to city-wide initiatives.

“Dock” Walls
Under my administration, City’s Department of Housing in conjunction with the Mayor’s Office on People with Disabilities, will assign caseworkers the responsibility to assist the disabled and other residents in their efforts to find a job, improve their skills, take advantage of educational opportunities, secure decent affordable and if necessary, accessible housing, repair their credit, expunge misdemeanors or seal other criminal records, and address physical and mental health concerns.

Dr. Wilson
Providing affordable and accessible housing will be an important issue for me as Mayor of Chicago. We need to make sure the process is transparent and that we are addressing the needs of disabled residents. However, making sure we operate our city on a balanced budget is also critical and will require we look at all programs and the best use of city resources.

3. What are your goals for increasing access for people with disabilities in regards to taxis and rideshare?

Mayor Emanuel
Working with Access Living, my administration has made significant strides in expanding the accessibility of the city’s public passenger vehicle industry, but more work is needed. In 2012, we passed a taxi reform ordinance that strengthened existing accessible vehicle mandates, created more incentives for taxi companies, and established an industry-supported Accessibility Fund to pay for new vehicles. When the industry failed to meet the City’s mandates, the City filed a lawsuit to force compliance. We also created a centralized dispatch service for wheelchair accessible vehicles to improve service across the city and, as part of our rideshare ordinance, increased the accessibility mandate and expanded revenue sources to double the number of wheelchair accessible taxis by 2018. The rideshare ordinance also required the companies to pay into our Accessibility Fund, and we launched a task force to develop recommendations for investing the Fund to expand vehicle accessibility. Additionally, thanks to proposals made by Access Living, our rideshare ordinance included the strongest accessibility mandates in the country by requiring rideshare apps to be fully accessible and mandating that these apps offer accessible services to riders. Over the next four years, I will seek further reforms to expand the number of accessible vehicles.

Alderman Fioretti
All Chicagoans should have equal accesses to city services and taxis are a necessary means of travel for many people. More accessible taxi vehicles for people with disabilities are a needed addition to progress within Chicago. We need to work with taxi companies to make sure their fleets offer more options and we need to create and enforce nondiscriminatory regulations for ridesharing companies. As the ridesharing revolution gains popularity, it is important to set sustainable precedents for multiple service options.

Commissioner Garcia
Increasing transportation access contributes to the quality of life and the economy. Only 3% (approximately 160) of all taxicabs in Chicago are wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAV). We are failing Chicagoans, visitors, and individuals with disabilities who conduct business in Chicago. If 100% of London’s taxis are accessible, then Chicago should strive to have far more than 10% of the fleet accessible by 2018. To achieve this, I propose increasing the percentage of WAV fleet to 18% (approximately 1,080) and then by 3.5% each year after. The City will seek additional funding to assist the taxicab industry to increase their WAV inventory as well as provide incentives for companies that meet their goals ahead of schedule. There is a pilot program in which rideshare companies contract with 3rd party accessible vehicles meaning they’re probably using the same fleet -­ this does not increase the number of WAVs. Current fees are too lax, compared to the taxicab industry, I would increase their licensing fees and require meeting accessibility benchmarks. There also needs to be stricter compliance oversight with the taxicab and rideshare industries and penalties issued with the money going towards the Accessibility Fund.

“Dock” Walls
I have attended the City Council hearings to argue for an increase in the fleet of accessible taxis. Paratransit riders experience long waits and delays in service. This is due in part to the change from control by the city to suburban entities. I will work to bring that control back to the city of Chicago. We will work with Pace and RTA to improve carrier service and prevent abusive service, poor routing, long hours of unusual wait and travel time during no traffic jams particularly during inclement weather.

Dr. Wilson
Rideshare programs likes Uber and Lyft are outnumbering taxis in the city. With the growing popularity of these programs they should be required to provide service to all individuals, including people with disabilities. One possible solution is to require these ridesharing programs to offer a specific fleet of vehicles that cater to people with disabilities.

4. How will your office work with the Mayor’s Office on People with Disabilities and the Chicago Commission on Human Relations to increase ADA compliance in small businesses across the city?

Mayor Emanuel
On the 24th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), I announced a new disability regulation for the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance that will cover public accommodations and commercial facilities. After working with Access Living to refine the draft, the final regulation will allow our local ordinance to more closely mirror the new federal ADA regulations, making it easier for businesses to understand what is needed to make their buildings and programs accessible. This spring, the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) and Chicago Commission on Human Relations will be launching a citywide educational outreach effort to the business community on the new regulation.

Alderman Fioretti
Small businesses are not exempt from ADA regulations. We should bolster the Accessibility Compliance Unit with all of the required resources needed to ensure compliance and provide technical assistance to businesses that are struggling to meet standards within the city. Stricter enforcement of pre-permit plans is vital to verifying both small businesses and corporate establishments alike are accessible to people with all types of disabilities.

Commissioner Garcia
Businesses need to understand that the ADA should not be an afterthought but looked upon as the cost of doing business. We have to understand the breadth of the issue and propose an independent study to understand how many small businesses are out of compliance -­ the trigger should not be a complaint. We need to coordinate efforts for tracking, monitoring, compliance oversight, and issuing penalties. A quarter of a century has passed since the passing of the ADA and we are still seeing and experiencing discrimination and segregation of people with disabilities. One of the arguments I hear is that people with disabilities do not go to my store or the building I rent is old so I am “grandfathered in” and do not have to worry about the entry steps. By having their business ADA compliant, they may see new traffic of customers. There is especially a need for outreach, education, and training for both our small business owners and our city departments, and it needs to stem beyond MOPD and the Commission on Human Relations. Coordinating work efforts opens the door to deploying resources in targeted areas and ensuring that all city departments aren’t working in silos.

“Dock” Walls
My office will make certain spotters from the Mayor’s Office on People with Disabilities are actively scouring the community looking for ADA violators. We will aggressively prosecute documented violations. We will hold such businesses responsible. This will affect their ability to renew their licenses. This will also increase new employment opportunities for persons who are disabled in these scouting positions as spotters as priority in hiring will be given to PWDs [people with disabilities] and veterans.

Dr. Wilson
My administration will work with both the MOPD and the Commission on Human Relations to make Chicago the most accessible city in the nation. We will work to encourage and promote ADA compliance across all businesses and enhance programing to meet the needs of the disabled.

5. In what ways will you expand or innovate services for people with psychiatric disabilities who need community supports?

Mayor Emanuel
When I took office I inherited a failing mental health system that had lost 90% of its state funding and more than a third of its patients since 2008. By partnering with community organizations and the federal government, we consolidated the city’s mental health clinics and invested in providing new services like psychiatric care. Thanks to these reforms, the City of Chicago now offers more diverse services in more locations across the city.
This issue has been a passion of mine since my earliest days in Congress, when I worked with Congressman Patrick Kennedy to pass a mental health parity bill in 2008 to protect individuals with mental health histories from being discriminated against by their insurance companies. I look forward to continuing to work with non-profit groups to further expand these services so that every Chicago resident has access to high-quality mental health care.

Alderman Fioretti
Mental health resources are an integral part of a thriving municipality. In Chicago, community health resources have become a target for budget cuts. These resources are some of our strongest public assets that have served generations of Chicago taxpayers, and should be re-invested in to create a brighter future and safer city for our children. By declaring a TIF surplus with the vast sum that is not committed to any specific projects or debt, I hope to reopen our shuttered mental health clinics and community centers to begin meaningful neighborhood development and enrichment programs.

Commissioner Garcia
Chicago is a metropolitan city operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Businesses adjust their hours to accommodate their target clientele. We need to follow their lead and provide services (e.g. mental health and crisis services and intensive services and supports) outside traditional hours either in person and/or through innovative programming using technology.

We will work to ensure that the services provided in the community are accessible to all people with disabilities. Getting through the door is not enough; we need to ensure that individuals who use wheelchairs, and/or have mobile limitations, and psychiatric needs are serviced effectively. Demonstration programs are fundamental in addressing gaps in services; I would create an initiative to fund innovative mental health pilot programs that can be rolled out and tested for city-­wide implementation. We also must not forget the indirect and unfunded support systems that our communities provide people with psychiatric disabilities and their families; there is merit in formally developing peer support initiatives. Lastly, we need to create and provide resources for stable and adequate funding that goes beyond the short-term point in time services and look toward longer-term services to assist with preventing individuals from falling through the cracks.

“Dock” Walls
I will support an addition of $2.71 million to the CDPH budget each year over four years to open (or reopen) two mental health clinics each year. I will set up a taskforce within MOPD to recommend services and analyze the CDPH service milestones for mental health services as they apply to psychiatric disabilities at these clinics.

Dr. Wilson
As mayor I will reopen all of the recently closed mental health clinics. We must ensure that mental illness is taken seriously and that those in need get the treatment that is needed. We have to realize that mental illness infiltrates our communities, homes, schools and streets if untreated.

6. How will you encourage City departments, agencies, and contractors to increase their hiring of qualified people with disabilities?

Mayor Emanuel
The need for employment remains on of the biggest challenges faced by people with disabilities. I agree with Access Living’s call for a task force to address the hiring of persons with disabilities and will launch one in my second term. We will also conduct an internal review of our own hiring practices and identify potential reforms and solutions to improve the recruitment and retention of people with disabilities.

Alderman Fioretti
The City of Chicago should work together with its established community organizations to make sure all of its residents succeed in various aspects of life and feeling supported through multiple channels. By consulting with local non-profits, job agencies and advocacy organizations we can encourage the employment of qualified workers. The city should be consulting current experts in the field, third party authorities and organizations like Have Dreams and The Coleman Foundation to monitor the current state of affairs. Through this analysis of what works in the process of job entry for people with disabilities and what areas can be studied for improvement, we can begin to empower the community.

Commissioner Garcia
I would work toward Chicago being a model employer for people with disabilities. I hear stories from businesses and agencies conveying they would like to hire people with disabilities but they can’t find qualified candidates. A task force would be created to develop an implementation and monitoring plan that is a multi-­pronged, coordinated approach of strategies and initiatives toward increasing the hiring of qualified people with disabilities in integrated settings. The implementation plan would be based on threshold criteria and benchmark goals set for hiring within my first term. I would: raise the threshold to have people with disabilities comprise at least 15% of the City workforce in meaningful employment. Create tax base incentives and lower business licensing fees for increasing and maintaining jobs for people with disabilities from the business communities. For agencies /contractors doing business with the City, an award increase would be based on hiring and maintain people with disabilities -­ at minimum -­ for the duration of the program and contract . I would also create a centralized pool of qualified people with disabilities where agencies and contractors can identify candidates.

“Dock” Walls
My administration will establish goals for the hiring of disabled workers. We will not allow waivers of the requirements. We will authorize these agencies to provide the data to MOPD on hiring practices to determine if they are meeting the goals for hiring qualified PWDs.

Dr. Wilson
We must begin with increasing the awareness of hiring qualified people with disabilities. One solution is to create incentives for businesses to hire qualified disabled individuals. I also would like to find a better way to advertise or promote qualified individuals so businesses are aware of available candidates.

7. Please feel free to share any other statements concerning issues affecting Chicagoans with disabilities.

Mayor Emanuel
I believe that “the City that Works” should work for everyone. Since taking office, my administration has launched multiple reforms and initiatives to make Chicago a better place to live for people with disabilities. Since taking office, we have increased accessible vehicle mandates on taxis and created new revenue streams to support new vehicles. We are tracking new, accessible affordable housing options and supporting home modifications. This all represents progress but more work remains to be done. In my second term, we will take advantage of the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act by working closely with our partners like Access Living to develop a robust agenda for making Chicago a more accessible city for all.

Alderman Fioretti had no further response.

Commissioner Garcia
It is not enough to have accessible housing, programming services, and transportation for all people with disabilities – we need to go further. What good would it be to Chicagoans if the neighborhood built environment is not safe and accessible for them. Community infrastructure needs to be included in discussions of improving the quality of life. I would work in developing and implementing a 10-year plan with benchmarks to make our city sidewalk, streets, parks, and public areas walkable and accessible not only for wheel chair users and individuals with limited mobility but for all people with disabilities.

“Dock” Walls
I desire that every person have access to their city, whether downtown or in their neighborhoods. I have personally witnessed the impact of persons in wheelchairs, on walkers, on canes, and blind and deaf persons not having full access at meetings, hearings, and conferences. I have a team of persons who are disabled who have worked with me at least since 2006 on accessibility. They regularly report accessibility issues, paratransit problems, and inaccessibility during snowstorms. I will use the intelligence they have gathered to work with Emergency Management and MOPD to ensure no disabled person or senior is left in unsafe conditions during blizzards.

Today, one of my key team members could not get to her health care facility for medical fitness, because her alley wasn’t shoveled. The same applies to those who have dialysis. The paratransit cannot drive through the 3-4 feet now in her alley and many other alleys. It is unacceptable to leave PWDs in such unsafe conditions. My administration will provide for the shoveling of alleys of seniors and PWDs who are snowed in and have no other access from their homes or buildings.

Dr. Wilson had no further response.

Commissioner Garcia had the following addendum
Clarification of yes/no questions 9 and 11.

9. I would create a taskforce to recommend neighborhoods with greatest need with a gradual approach to reopening mental health clinics. I would also utilize technology and innovative programming to meet the demand as we work toward servicing the needs of Chicagoans with mental health needs.

11. I would take recommendations from the disability community to assist with the nomination process of people with disabilities to City Boards and Commissions, including the Chicago Transit Authority. As it relates to the nominating people to the Board of Education, I would work toward an election process. Individuals with disabilities would be invited run for a seat of the elected Board of Education School Board.

END OF QUESTIONNAIRE RESULTS