Deputy Mayor for Legal Affairs Carol A. Robles-Roman, Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities Victor Calise, Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer, City Council Member Gale A. Brewer, State Assembly Member Linda B. Rosenthal, Community Board 7 Chair Mark Diller, and Candra and Trevor Sapolin, the wife and son of former Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities Matthew P. Sapolin, today gathered to rename the playground on West 70th Street between West End Avenue and Amsterdam Avenue in honor of Matthew P. Sapolin.
“Matthew Sapolin dedicated his life’s work to making our great city accessible to all who live and visit here,” said Deputy Mayor for Legal Affairs Carol Robles-Román. “Generations of children who play in this park will be inspired by Matt, who lost his sight as a child but never let his own disability stop him from doing anything he set out to do.”
“Matthew Sapolin was a champion for the disabled community and it is especially appropriate that we name this playground for him as it is the home of a great many accessible play elements that all children can enjoy,” said Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe. “At the Parks Department we are committed to making sure that children of all abilities can play at our parks and playgrounds. We are proud that the playground now bears Matthew’s name who left a legacy of breaking down barriers that kept disabled New Yorkers from fully participating in everything that our city has to offer.”
“Matthew was such a leader in accessibility and naming this playground after him is a testament to his legacy,” said Victor Calise, Commissioner for the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. “This playground will teach kids through interaction that a person should not be judged by their disability but by who they are.”
The newly renamed Matthew P. Sapolin Playground is a playground for all children. In 2003, Parks completed a $1.1 million reconstruction with equipment that every child can enjoy regardless of their abilities. Renovations included the construction of a Children’s Garden with accessible bridges running across it, musical instruments built into the play space, and basketball courts with adjustable basketball backstops that can be lowered for athletes in wheelchairs. The comfort station was also refurbished and picnic tables were constructed to allow disabled access.
Matthew Sapolin was appointed to serve as the Executive Director of the New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) by Mayor Bloomberg in October 2002, and was elevated to Commissioner of MOPD by Mayor Bloomberg in August 2006. MOPD works hand-in-hand with other City agencies to assure that the voice of the disabled community is represented and that City programs and policies address the needs of people with disabilities.
Under his leadership, MOPD has reemerged as a voice for the disabled community, and advocates have responded by working together with City Government to reach mutually beneficial outcomes. Some of Commissioner Sapolin’s accomplishments include: serving as Local Coordinator for National Disability Mentoring Day, a nationwide initiative pairing disabled students and job-seekers with corporate and employer mentors; launching ShopABLE New York, an initiative that provides grants and works with neighborhood business associations to create barrier-free shopping districts; taking the lead in making sure that the operators at “311” Citizen Services Hotline have the latest in accessibility technology for the disabled; acting as a staunch advocate for accessible public transportation, including working with the Administration to pass legislation requiring accessible waterborne and ground transportation; acting as Ambassador for the NYC 2012 Olympic bid at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece; acting as Chairman of the new NYC Building Code Accessibility Committee; creating a series of publications on Universal Design for use by design professionals and building code officials, including the 2010 publication Inclusive Design Guidelines New York City; and successfully shepherding critical legislation creating rent controls for people with disabilities on fixed incomes.
Born on March 12, 1970, Commissioner Sapolin became blind at the age of 5 as a result of bilateral retinoblastoma. On November 29, 2011, Commissioner Sapolin passed away from complications due to cancer. He is survived by his wife, Candra, and his children, Toscany and Trevor.-30-
Vickie Karp / Phil Abramson (Parks) (212) 360-1311
Evelyn Erskine (MOPD) (212) 788-2958