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Liu courts disabled voters at Jamaica election forum

Central and southwest Queens political candidates addressed rights for the disabled last Thursday at a forum sponsored by the 504 Democratic Club, a citywide organization of Democrats with disabilities as well as their family and friends.

"You should not be asking anyone to do you a favor so you can get from one block to another, get on the subway or go into a building," said Inderjit Singh, who is running against incumbent Councilman Alan Jennings in Council District 28, which covers Richmond Hill, South Ozone Park and Jamaica. "I believe strongly that the issues we're facing are issues of human rights."

Singh was one of six candidates to speak at the 504 Democratic Club's Candidates Night at the Queens Independent Living Center at 140-40 Queens Blvd. in Jamaica. The event was meant to provide members with an opportunity to get to know candidates before they are asked to vote by ballot for the candidate that they believe the club should endorse.

"We are working toward a more accessible future. And we believe that the first steps toward full integration lies in encouraging ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance and working with our colleagues and representatives in public office to effect positive change," said a 504 Democratic Club mission statement. "In the political arena and in society at large all must come to understand that anything less than an equal place at the table for people with disabilities is unacceptable."

Other candidates who spoke at the event were Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), Councilwoman Helen Sears (D-Jackson Heights), Helen Cooper-Gregory who is running against Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), and David Reich and Florence Fisher, who are challenging Councilman Jim Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows).

Liu said as chairman of the City Council's Transportation Committee, he is working to have curbs cut at all pedestrian crossings so that wheelchair-bound people can get on and off sidewalks independently. In addition, he is pressing to have shelters and seats put in at all bus stops that have sidewalks wide enough to accommodate them.

Liu said the city will soon mandate that 9 percent of all taxis be wheelchair accessible.

"We have to start developing a transportation infrastructure so people can remain independent and get around," said Liu.

But several disabled members of the 504 Democratic Club said that 9 percent of taxis was too few to serve the disabled community.

"Nine percent makes no sense to me," said a disabled club member. "We live in a city where if there are people from other cities coming to go to conventions, they can hail a cab, but we have to go to a telephone."

Cooper-Gregory pointed out that discrimination against disabled people often comes from a lack of education and exposure to the disabled, which results in one of their ranks being known as the "guy in the wheelchair" instead of an individual with a name.

"If you don't have exposure to people with disabilities, you become uncomfortable around them," said Cooper-Gregory. "Integration in schools is important."

Cooper-Gregory said School District 29, which is served by the city council district in which she is running, is one of the worst in the city, especially for children with special education needs.

She promised to put education first and to work to ensure that people are treated fairly and equally.

Following the forum at the Queens Independent Living Center, members of the 504 Democratic Club convened at the Flagship Diner on Queens Boulevard to discuss candidates.

"This was a screening," said Marvin Wasserman, the president of the club. "The club will take its position later after the mail ballots."

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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