Council Establishes Agency on Disability

Calling it a way to put the city's collective feet to the fire to address the needs of the disabled, the City Council on Wednesday established a separate Department on Disability.

After hearing impassioned support from people with disabilities and from representatives of agencies that serve them, council members agreed that there is a need to recognize the office of disabilities as a full department with its own budget.

"Despite the best intentions of all of us in city government, it is important to have a department to advocate the rights of the disabled community," said Councilman Mike Feuer, who along with Councilman Richard Alatorre proposed the action.

The new department will receive about $332,000 from the city's general fund. It will be able to hire up to seven staff members, bringing its total number to about 18.

The office has relied on about $400,000 annually in grant funding to provide services to the more than 850,000 disabled residents of the city, officials said.

Betty Wilson, executive director of the new department, said the action is long overdue and provides permanence to the programs.

"This will help us be more stable," she said. "When we relied on grants, we would often not be able to provide some services, and some projects would be left undone. If the focus [of the grants] changed, we might not get funding for the next year."

She said the new department will concentrate on providing access for people with disabilities to each city program and facility.

Efforts range from personal assistance, including job placement and extending meals-on-wheels services to those with disabilities who are under 55, to general help, including building ramps on curbs that are not accessible to people in wheelchairs.

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