Community members protesting the 2021 closure of the Carousel House, a rec center designed for people living with disabilities. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

The City of Philadelphia has a lot of responsibilities, and it’s got lots of moving pieces that work toward getting those things done. What’s known as the Home Rule Charter — basically the city’s constitution — sets the stage for that by defining the structure and duties of city government and its various parts.

The single ballot question this November asks voters whether they want to put an additional office into the charter: The Office for People with Disabilities.

About 17.4% of Philadelphians live with a disability, per the most recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates. That’s a lot — in fact, Philly had the highest share of residents living with disabilities of all the country’s large cities, the Pew Charitable Trusts found in 2016.

There’s already an existing Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, but an amendment to the Home Rule Charter would make it a more permanent part of city government.

Councilmember Kendra Brooks in May introduced the legislation to create the office, which passed City Council in June. Now it awaits your — the voters’ — approval.

What you’ll see on the ballot

Should the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to create an Office for People with Disabilities to coordinate the City’s compliance with requirements to provide access for people with disabilities to City services and programs and to otherwise provide for incorporation of the Office into the City government?

What it means

The already existing Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities includes a commission that supports and advocates for Philadelphians living with disabilities and an office of ADA compliance. This would essentially seek to make that office permanent.

The current office exists because Mayor Jim Kenney in 2017 signed an executive order. That means a future mayor could choose to disband it. But if the city charter is amended to include the office, it will continue to exist regardless of who’s mayor — unless there’s another charter change to take it out.

What would the responsibilities of the new office be? In a nutshell, it would exist for the “same purposes” as the current office, according to the plain language summary of the ballot question.

Per the proposed charter language, the office would make sure the city is in compliance with federal, state, and local legal accessibility requirements for municipal programming, services, and employment. It could do this through things like leading trainings or helping develop city policy.

The Office for People with Disabilities would also be the go-to place for receiving complaints and questions about accessibility of city services and public accommodations. It would be responsible for working with other city agencies to resolve the issues, or refer them to law enforcement or the Commission on Human Rights.

Additionally, the office would be charged with educating Philadelphians on matters involving the rights of people living with disabilities, supporting any commissions or boards that are created to support people living with disabilities, and coordinating with other city agencies to ensure that accessibility for people living with disabilities “is incorporated into city policies and programs concerning such issues.”

The mayor would be responsible for appointing the office’s director.

Both City Council and a majority of voters have to approve any changes to the charter. If this ballot question passes, the charter changes will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024.

Who’s for it?

Brooks’ legislation to put the charter change to the voters was co-sponsored by six other councilmembers, passed by City Council, and signed by Kenney. It also has support from the group Disability Pride Philadelphia.

Who’s against it?

Billy Penn could not locate any groups or public figures who oppose the bill. Per the Committee of Seventy, there’s so far no “organized opposition” against the measure.

Asha Prihar is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She has previously written for several daily newspapers across the Midwest, and she covered Pennsylvania state government and politics for The...