(Almost) Dead Last

Study: Buffalo an undesirable location for disabled community

By Lou Sorendo

Handicapped signBuffalo is among the worst cities in the nation for people with disabilities.

So claims WalletHub.com, a personal finance website, which did an analysis recently in light of a trend that sees the unemployment rate for persons with a disability rising and 2015 disability benefits not adequate enough to keep a beneficiary above 2014 poverty levels.

At the beginning of 2015, Social Security paid an average monthly disability benefit of $1,165. “That is barely enough to keep a beneficiary above the 2014 poverty level ($11,670 annually),” according to WalletHub.com.

The analysis is called “2016’s Best & Worst Cities for People with Disabilities.”

With a mission to expedite the process of finding the best place to live while managing a disability, WalletHub’s analysts compared the 150 most populated cities across three key dimensions: economy, quality of life and health care.

Buffalo is 146th after being ranked 134th in economy, 66th in quality of life and 144th in health care.

Rochester is one slot behind. It is positioned 147th after being ranked 146th in economy, 60th in qualify of life and 143rd in health care.

According to the report, Rochester has the highest percentage of people with disabilities living below poverty level — 44.1 percent. Buffalo is next to last on the list in that same category.

WalletHub evaluated the study’s three categories using 25 metrics. Some factors under economy include housing affordability and cost of living.

Metrics under quality of life include percentage of persons with disabilities living in the area and number of special-education teachers per 1,000 residents.

Metrics in the health care area include cost of a doctor visit and average per-person health insurance premium.

Not so fast

Frank Cammarata is the executive director of the Erie County Office for the Disabled in Buffalo, and has issues with the study.

While Cammarata said he could not gauge the credibility of WalletHub.com, he did say the media source is focused on financial issues and not disability services or topics.

For statistical information, he generally refers to the American Community Survey produced through the U.S. Census Bureau, ARC’s annual survey, the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations, or the Kessler Foundation.

“These surveyors have a more educational and informational basis,” he said.

Cammarata said the metrics within the study only take into account the “city proper.”

“Buffalo has a newer renaissance occurring which is improving the cost of living for many, but Buffalo should include all of our surrounding communities for a proper survey,” he said.

Cammarata said Buffalo ended up with poor rankings because the whole area was not considered.

“There is a lot going on in our area and improvements are being made in many communities to make them accessible to all, but we still have work to do,” he said.

Cammarata also questioned the reach of the website’s study.

“I find it interesting that the disabled community has not reached out to me regarding this survey, nor have I seen it on any media outlets locally,” he said. “I think people with disabilities feel we have a good community that is on an upswing and that this survey does not truly reflect that.”

“It is never good to see your area at the bottom of a survey especially when you see the good work being done by the various terrific agencies in our area,” he added.

Cammarata has worked in the human services field for 23 years, 19 of which were dedicated to people with developmental disabilities specifically.

He noted Erie County is fortunate to have an Office for People with Disabilities, only one of five across New York state.

“Depending on funding from state agencies, there are good times and not so good times,” he said. “I have seen both sides. At this time, there are challenges for families and for the person with the disability.”

The challenges focus on transportation, housing and job opportunities, he said.

Transportation key issue

“We are fortunate to see the unemployment rate in our area dropping, which helps provide more opportunities,” he said. The unemployment rate in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area dropped from 5.3 percent in March to 4.7 percent in August, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Cammarata said Erie County and surrounding areas feature many well-qualified and highly educated people who have a disability and are working and many who are seeking employment.

“There are jobs, but public transportation is a major issue that needs to be addressed,” he said.

Fixed routes have been reduced, resulting in less paratransit routes.

“People with mobility disabilities in many cases rely upon our public transportation system for daily living activities,” he said.

Among Erie County’s disabled population, 42 percent experience mobility issues, 27 percent face cognitive challenges, 20 percent have hearing problems and another 11 percent are vision impaired.

Cammarata said he participates in community meetings regarding transportation and expresses the increasing needs for greater transportation opportunities.

Cammarata said Buffalo is working on a “green code” to make it more accessible to everyone.

The Buffalo Green Code is a land use plan that concentrates on “fixing the basics, building on assets, implementing smart growth and embracing sustainability,” according to the Buffalo mayor’s office.

“That is a good step. The entire community needs to have discussions with developers of new housing, public transportation providers and major employers to discuss the needs of people with disabilities,” Cammarata said.

He said some of these conversations are happening.

“I have spoken to many large employers about the benefits of hiring a person with a disability and hold career fairs to provide greater opportunities,” he said.

He said the Buffalo area needs financial resources for its transportation infrastructure to improve.

“With good transportation comes opportunities,” he said.

WalletHub.com used a host of sources for its study, including data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics and Department of Housing and Urban Development.

To view the full report, visit https://wallethub.com/edu/best-worst-cities-for-people-with-disabilities/7164/.