Our Priorities

Financial Empowerment

Financial Empowerment

More than a quarter of people with disabilities in the United States live in poverty.  In fact, people with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty than those without disabilities. The leaders of Empowered Cities are helping their constituents with disabilities to navigate major financial decisions, build financial knowledge, and access financial products and services.

Empowered Cities founding financial capability partner, National Disability Institute, has developed a suite of financial empowerment tools--including briefs, quick reference guides, and micro trainings--for municipalities and service providers.


Boston — CPWD is partnering with the Boston Public Schools Special Education Department to provide financial education, training, and practical tools to students with developmental disabilities aged 18 to 24 as they plan their next steps after high school. The program is focused on both students and their families, and includes:

  • An overview of financial programs and services provided by the City
  • Assistance with setting short- and longer-term individual financial goals
  • Training on budgeting, saving, checking accounts, credit, and predatory behavior
  • Information on ABLE Accounts, SSI, Medicaid, and ways to maintain benefits while working
  • A stipend to open a savings or checking account, depending on personal goals

Chicago — Chicago MOPD is addressing barriers to financial inclusion for Chicagoans with disabilities, including access to banks and banking services. Chicago MOPD connects residents and community-based organizations serving people with disabilities to information on BankOn, ABLE Accounts, and other financial empowerment resources. Chicago MOPD also connects residents with disabilities to entrepreneurship training and works to increase the number of businesses with a Business Enterprise owned by People with Disabilities Certification and expand contracting opportunities for those certified businesses.

New York City — The EmpoweredNYC initiative, funded by Citi, employs a multi-strategy approach, led by the City of New York, to improve the financial health and stability of people with disabilities and their families through broad community engagement, specialized training for financial counselors, educational materials for individuals, and free, professional, one-on-one financial counseling. EmpoweredNYC clients receive guidance and support on:

  • Transitioning to work and maintaining benefits
  • Managing Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits
  • Tackling Social Security Administration (SSA) overpayments
  • Budgeting, savings, reducing debt, and managing credit

NYC MOPD collaborated with the NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) Office of Financial Empowerment (OFE) and National Disability Institute (NDI) as strategic partners in developing the EmpoweredNYC initiative, a blueprint for other cities.

The impact of EmpoweredNYC was the catalyst for the creation of Empowered Cities.



The uneven impacts of the pandemic and economic crisis have sparked a national conversation on equity.  The Empowered Cities initiative aims to make the movement for equity truly inclusive of all people by addressing barriers to digital connectivity, healthcare, accessibility and other critical services. 

Boston — CPWD worked across all City Departments to ensure every virtual platform being used or newly implemented is accessible for persons with disabilities. Collaborating with the City’s Office of Language Access, CPWD offered training and developed a Best Practices for Accessibility in Digital Platforms guide. Accessibility standards include full programmatic access for all forms of virtual services.

Chicago — Chicago MOPD is partnering with the city’s public library system to make sure library computers are accessible and equipped with Assistive Technology for residents with disabilities.

New York City — NYC MOPD launched a pilot project to address the digital divide among New Yorkers with disabilities.  The project provides laptops, internet connectivity, and skills training for job seekers who do not have a personal computer and/or reliable internet access at home.

New York City’s Text-to-911 program launched in June 2020 for individuals who are Deaf, hard of hearing, have a disability that makes speech difficult, or who cannot safely call 911.  Text-to-911 is a partnership between NYC MOPD, NYPD, FDNY and the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications.

San Francisco — San Francisco is conducting a digital needs assessment of residents with disabilities to inform its strategy to fill hardware, software, assistive technology and internet connectivity gaps.



The employment figures for Americans with disabilities are staggering.  Pre-COVID, more than two-thirds of working-age people with disabilities were unemployed or underemployed.  No matter their educational attainment, people with disabilities face pervasive bias in the workplace.  In response, Empowered Cities leaders have undertaken innovative efforts to connect their constituents with meaningful employment, identify new training pathways, and support businesses in implementing inclusive hiring practices.

Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles — All three cities lead summer internship programs for young people with disabilities.

Boston — For the past ten years, CPWD has partnered with the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) to create a pipeline to public-sector jobs for Boston residents with disabilities through the On the Job Experience Pipeline Program. The program provides residents who are working with MRC to find gainful employment with a six-week project-oriented job at Boston City Hall based on their skills and interests. It concludes with a Human Resources Department workshop on city employment opportunities and the application process. Hundreds of Boston residents with disabilities have gained access to city jobs as a result of this initiative.

Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles — All three cities lead summer internship programs for young people with disabilities.

New York CityNYC: ATWORK, launched by NYC MOPD in 2017, is a public-private partnership that recruits, pre-screens, and connects New Yorkers with disabilities to job opportunities and internships with business partners across sectors.  Pre-COVID, over 375 New Yorkers with disabilities have been connected to jobs with a retention rate of 82% after 1 year.  In 2021, NYC: ATWORK was awarded the Zero Project Award, recognizing innovative and effective policies and practices and improving the lives of people with disabilities around the world.

Despite the pandemic, NYC: ATWORK continues to connect participants to internships and jobs and hold virtual orientations, workshops and seminars.  In July 2020, NYC MOPD hosted career-related events in honor of the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, reaching over 1,420 attendees. For the 75th anniversary of National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October 2020, 2,060 participants took part in trainings on Disability Etiquette and Awareness, Reasonable Accommodation and Disclosure, ADA and Inclusive Hiring Practices, Remote Employment Opportunities, Mental Health in the Workplace, and Access to Internships. New York City’s Internships to Career Pathways program connects college students to remote paid or academic credit internships in NYC government, the arts and culture, marketing, finance and publishing.

Affordable Accessible Housing

Affordable Accessible Housing

There is a severe shortage of accessible and affordable housing for Americans with disabilities.  The situation is even more dire in cities with a high cost of living, including San Francisco and New York City. Retrofitting old housing infrastructure to make it fully accessible can be costly or structurally impossible. While newly constructed housing may be physically accessible and may include designated “affordable” units, they are often financially out of reach.  Americans with disabilities are twice as likely as those without disabilities to live in poverty, and many do not meet the minimum income requirements to qualify for affordable units. 

The Empowered Cities provide expertise on accessible design and construction to their city agency partners and advocate for increasing accessible and affordable housing options for people with disabilities.  The cities of Chicago and New York City are adding to accessible housing stock by providing support for home modifications.

Boston — CPWD formed the Disability Housing Task Force in 2014 to increase the supply of accessible housing, streamline the process of obtaining accessible housing, and support people with disabilities who have recently obtained housing. In 2021, the City passed the  Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Ordinance, requiring developers to assess if there is any displacement of people with disabilities for every project, and to offer mitigation to those who have been affected.

Chicago — Chicago's HomeMod Program offers home accessibility modifications that will allow people with disabilities, under the age of sixty, to make their living environment accessible.  Modifications can include ramps, porch and stair lifts, roll-in showers, widened doorways, accessible sinks and cabinets. All services will be performed in accordance with federal, state, and municipal accessibility legal requirements. Modifications are limited to a maximum of $10,000 per project and are performed by licensed, insured, and experienced home remodeling companies. Applications are accepted year-round.

Los Angeles — DOD plans to partner with the LA County Bar Association to provide pro bono legal services to people with disabilities experiencing discrimination or other accessibility issues, including those at risk of homelessness. 

New York City — The Where We Live NYC plan is the culmination of a comprehensive, inclusive fair housing planning process that centered the housing needs of New Yorkers with disabilities. The final plan released in October 2020 includes a commitment to create more independent and integrated living options for people with disabilities.

San Francisco — San Francisco has produced nine Informational Bulletins on designing accessible housing based on accessibility best practices and concepts of Universal Design. The Bulletins provide guidance on federal, state, and local accessibility codes and regulations when designing and constructing new or altered public buildings, public accommodations, commercial buildings and public housing.