In Memoriam: Commissioner Matthew P. Sapolin
Matthew P. Sapolin was appointed to serve as the Executive Director of the New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) by Mayor Michael R. 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 ensure 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.
In addition to his duties working for the Mayor’s Office, Commissioner Sapolin also served as an Adjunct Professor in the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Professional Studies, teaching a course in the Certificate Program for Disability Studies. He created a curriculum that includes topics such as the economics and business of disability; quality management of disability organizations; and leadership in public policy issues.
Prior to joining the Mayor’s Office, Commissioner Sapolin served as Co-Executive Director for the Queens Independent Living Center (QILC), overseeing all operations. At QILC, he initiated promotional campaigns that included radio and bus placard advertising, as well as intensive outreach strategies that redefined and reintroduced the organization to the community. He has also served as the Coordinator of the Client Assistance Program for the Center for Independence of the Disabled of New York (CIDNY), where he worked as an advocate on behalf of individuals with disabilities that were seeking vocational rehabilitation services. He developed a computer system that links six Independent Living Centers in the five boroughs and worked as a Program Coordinator to Access Health Care, a program that identifies and secures funding to support health-related programs for the disabled.
Born on March 12, 1970, Commissioner Sapolin became blind at the age of 5 as a result of bilateral retinoblastoma. After growing up in Islip, NY, the Commissioner received his BA at New York University as well as a Masters of Public Health Administration from Wagner School of Public Service at New York University, where he also served as the Co-Captain of the Varsity Wrestling Team. He was also an accomplished musician, and was known as an exceptional drummer, guitarist and bassist, as well as a musical engineer.
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. He will be sorely missed, but his legacy as one of New York City’s truly awe-inspiring leaders who overcame his own obstacles will continue to live on in the hearts of those who were blessed to have met him, as well as those whose lives have been improved as a result of his service to his community.
Below is a place to voice your thoughts and remembrances on Commissioner Sapolin.