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Hochul names state's first Chief Disability Officer

Kim Hill, right, will serve as the state's first Chief Diversity Officer
Mike Groll
Office of the Governor
Kim Hill, right, will serve as the state's first Chief Diversity Officer

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul created a new state Office of the Chief Disability Officer and named the first person to lead that office, something she said is long overdue.

Kim Hill, a longtime state Assembly staffer working on disability issues, will head an office located in the executive chamber, which means she will be in contact directly with Hochul and her top aides.

Hochul said New York ranks 38th of the 50 states in the percentage of people with disabilities who have jobs. She says just 35% are fully employed, and 30% live in poverty. She said the new position is long overdue.

“We think about the fact that New York state has not had this position in permanent way, and that is an oversight,” Hochul said. “It’s just been inexcusable.”

Hill called it “the honor of a lifetime,” and said she’s eager to focus attention on issues like the lack of affordable and available home health care.

Hill, who uses a wheelchair, said she wants to “bring the voices and priorities of all people with disabilities to the forefront” and work toward a more “integrated, inclusive and accessible New York."

New York does have a state agency for people with developmental disabilities, but there is no one entity that deals with people with other kinds of disabilities.

Hochul says she would like to see people with disabilities make up 10% of the state’s workforce.

And the governor said she’s including tens of thousands of units for supportive housing in the state budget as part of her $25 billion housing plan.

“They need to not just have a roof over their head, but ... services, sometimes, that also allow them to excel in that environment,” Hochul said.

Denise Figueroa, who leads the Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley in Troy, where the announcement was held, said the “disability community has waited many years for a voice in state government.”

“We’ve been waiting for a long time for this to come,” Figueroa said.

New York previously had an Office for the Advocate for the Disabled, created under former Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1983. Under the tenure of his son, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the office was absorbed into the Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities.

That entity was eventually disbanded and replaced by another office, the Justice Center for the Protection of People With Special Needs, which has had an uneven track record.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.