In Memoriam: Commissioner Matthew P. Sapolin

Commissioner Matthew P. SapolinBiography

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.

Read the press release

Below is a place to voice your thoughts and remembrances on Commissioner Sapolin.

41 thoughts on “In Memoriam: Commissioner Matthew P. Sapolin

    • I worked with Matt at CIDNY in 2000 as a volunteer. He was very helpful and a great person to be around! I will miss him. Condolences to his family.

  1. Matt, you are and were and Inspiration to all of your Sig Ep brothers at the University of Hartford before you transfered to NYU. As one of your pledge instructors ur dedication and energy of being part of the fraternity was truly special. You will be missed but most importantly we all were blessed to know you. Clearly NYC was made a better place because of Matthew Sapolin..

  2. The Commissioner was a very special man, and a truly great public servant. He was incredibly smart, helpful, and very funny. It was always a pleasure to talk with him, and a complete honor to know him.

  3. So much to say about to say about this truly great man! I miss his honesty, his grit, his desire to seek the greater good by speaking truth to power while always a diplomat and his welcoming of criticism. He was a mensch of the highest order! Now, if only his boss would do the great honor to his memory by not opposing accessible transportation in all its forms…. someday.

  4. I met Matt in 2008 on what already was going to be a great day to remember but I think of it even more fondly because he made it possible. I detail this particular day in my online tribute to Matt, written last December, at

    I’ve read and heard numerous items about Matt since his passing, some lighthearted but all of which were inspirational, uplifting and touching. I’ll always remember him for his kindness and generosity.

    I consider myself very fortunate in my life to have met and known this great man. I’m sure others who’ve ever crossed his path feel the same way I do.

    Thank you for publishing this website, launching it on his birthday. We’ll miss him and we’ll never forget him.

  5. the most unforgettable person one ever could know. Mat your certainly a person who has shaped my way of thinking and have empowered me to look at all angles and when that is done, question the process for accuracy. From the first time I met you as a 5-year-old, I knew somehow in my thoughts you were destined for public office and to help others. With discussions and laughter, we spent many days by phone, by email or in person sharing ways and issues we were dealing with and found the solutions we put in place. You are unforgettable in every way and I still want to pick up the phone and share with you! I know you have began playing cards with the greats in heaven, but know your horribly missed here by all.
    Love from your friend Stephen

  6. As a memeber of the choir to whom he jokingly preached to each time he spoke about the issues so close to his heart, I have only the fondest memories of Matt. From the time we worked together through the CAP program to the fun talks we had about the NY JETS , Matt showed enthusiasm and warmth , as well as a deep committment to his work. As a member of a partner agency, NYS ACCES-VR, I was always touched by Matt’s strong support of our efforts to assist individuals with disabilities to gain employment. I miss him as a partner, an advocate, and a friend. .

  7. Matt brought so much joy to so many of us. I will never forget all of the talks and memories we shared throughout the years. There hasn’t been a day that has gone by that I haven’t thought of Matt and through the amazing work that he did his legacy will live on forever.

  8. Matt,
    you started as a professor to me, became a mentor and friend. I miss you every day. I’m sorry you never got to meet my daughter, but I speak of you to her often. Vaya Con Dios my friend.

    Scott Feldman

  9. I was fortunate to know Matthew for a brief time, he generously agreed to be one of our keynote speakers at The 2011 NYC Employers Forum held on the Intrepid Museum in NYC. I’m sure it was very familiar topic for him to speak about employment for individuals who are differently able. I applaud all his efforts in getting the word out about hiring blind and visually impaired individuals who are unemployed. Matthew was a true leader because he led by example. My sincere condolence goes out to his family.

  10. Matt was in a very difficult position– sort of being an “ambassador” from the Mayor to many who didn’t see eye-to-eye with the position of his administration. But he did so with unfailing grace and good humor. We will all miss him.

  11. I once interpreted an event where he spoke. I’ve always remembered how his energy affected a room. It was completely positive and made you smile.

  12. I worked with Matt at CIDNY when he was a CAP counselor. He always offered input with grace, humor and directedness. He was by far, intelligent and a “fighter”. I am blessed to have worked with and known him. He gave me the strength and power to continue in his legacy. Thank you so much, Matt. We love you!!!

  13. I had the privilege of working with Commissioner Matthew Sapolin and co-chairing Project Access New York with him. I was deeply saddened by Matt’s passing. Those who knew him lost a great friend. The cultural institutions around the city lost an advocate and a great leader who had an inspirational vision of New York City as the most accessible city in the world, where the doors of cultural institutions, sport arenas, and theaters are open to all New Yorkers and visitors with disabilities. Matt often spoke about disability legislation as outlining only the minimum requirements for access; he passionately advocated for cultural agencies to raise the bar and build a truly universally accessible city. – Elisabeth Axel, Founder and President, Art Beyond Sight/Art Education for the Blind

    • I was at that amazing game. I was his nephew (the little tan kid sitting next to him) and you are very correct

  14. We are deeply saddened by the untimely passing of Commissioner Matt Sapolin. Commissioner Sapolin was a true champion – ensuring that persons with special needs were given the same access and opportunity as those more able-bodied. His presence at the Yankee Stadium Challenger Game during All Star week in New York City in 2008 was an inspiration to the children and parents who were there. He will be missed by many. – Celia Bobrowsky, Director, Community Affairs, Major League Baseball

  15. Matt was a member of the Mount Sinai SCI Community Advisory Committee and always brought great insight and a different perspective to the meeting. A true leader and caring individual. You will be missed.

  16. I first met Matt in the mid-1990s, shortly after beginning to work at Art Beyond Sight/Art Education for the Blind. Several years later, I was standing in a long, long line waiting to get into a celebration of the ADA hosted by the city. In chatting with the man behind me, I said that Matt was a good friend to my organization and to me. The man laughed, saying: “Matt is a good friend of everyone in this line, and all of the organizations they represent.” Of course, he was right. Matt’s outreach was remarkable and his kindness, his generosity, and his dedication to equal rights for all made him a cherished friend of hundreds, perhaps thousands of New Yorkers. I feel blessed to be among them. Matt is sorely missed.

  17. He will be missed very much! SATH lost a great friend and ally when he passed away! It would be a huge task to find someone to fill in the space he left! May God bless him with Eternal Peace and Rest!

  18. Teresa MacIntosh April 4, 2012 at 12:3
    he was a inspiration to me and all, and I will carry the mission and dedication on, gone but not forgotten you to know peace and blessings,

  19. Matt was so special that the most accomplished writer would have a hard time finding the words to describe him. I feel so incredibly lucky to have known him and not one day has passed without me thinking about him.
    I miss you terribly, Matty. You will forever be in my heart. I love you, buddy.

  20. We all need role models (people with and without disabilities) and Matthew Sapolin was certainly that. His optimism was infectious and his warmth, enthusiasm and humor were as well. The families of NYC have lost a hero.

    Gary Shulman, MS. Ed., Program Director
    Resources for Children with Special Needs, Inc.

  21. Commissioner Sapolin was an extraordinary renaissance man.
    I was fortunate enough to coordinate the Paralympic Delegation to Athens. To experience sporting events through Mathew’s insight took sports to a new level. I will be forever grateful to have had the opportunity to work with him.

  22. I truly feel we, the disabled population of NYC, lost an important connection to city government. Matthew Sapolin cared about people with disabilities and he often needed to walk a delicate balance.


  24. I never had the pleasure of meeting mr.sapolin but our conversations were good.He believed in the rights for all people which is what made him a great man.

  25. Anyone who met or got an opportunity to work with Matt is blessed. He was truly inspiring and will not be forgotten. God Bless you- Matt and your family.

  26. He was my Uncle and even though I didnt spend much time with him, that time with him was well spent. Death is a sad thing, but there was nothing terribly bad for him in his life. not one complaint from a man who has dealt with it all, and I am so thankful that he is my uncle.

  27. I worked with Matt at CIDNY in 2000-2002 as a volunteer. He was very helpful and a great person to be around! I will miss him. Condolences to his family.

  28. Every time I think of my housing benefits, which I enjoy and live every day as well as the public ones, Matthew is the first and only person coming to my mind. We worked together to get me to those points. Well, he showed me that if I’ll ever give up, I’d only lose. He tought me the right thing! I will never forget Matt Sapolin!

  29. One thing I can say is that he never gave up on his dreams and family, I just wanted to say thank you for all he has done for my family of people with disabilities and for the ramp he has gotten for my child, every time we use it we say thank you.

  30. I went to Wagner with Matt and I was always amazed at how strong he was and how he never let anything get him down. He was such a special person and I am so sad to hear that he is no longer with us.

  31. Matt has done great work in the disability community. He was a very special person. My prayers are with him and his family.

  32. A true friend and inspiration. Even when he was ill, he would always pick up the phone to see how I was doing and what could he do to help. He is probably laughing so hard knowing that another museum became accessible for people with hearing loss because of discussions at his funeral…

  33. I met Matt in the early 1990’s and was astounded at his musical ability. When I left the US Coast Guard and moved to NYC to work in music, Matt played drums on some of the first recordings I did at The Hit Factory Recording Studios…he was an amazing drummer. After all these years I still remember what a wonderful person he was, and his great sense of humor. He had a passion for music that was incredible…he played guitar, bass and drums. I still have copies of those recordings and this week will pull them out of the archives and see if I can get them transferred to MP3’s. He was a great friend and I will never forget him.

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