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Amy Nieves

Former Executive Director, Philadelphia Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities

Amy Nieves, Former Executive Director, Philadelphia Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities
Matt Stanley
Seventeen percent of Philadelphia residents live with some form of disability, and the city’s Disability Characteristics Map makes data on where those people live readily available, informing decision-making efforts citywide. Amy Nieves, who was executive director of the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) until April 2024, was instrumental in creating the map and believes it will “change our nation” regarding how data is used. It has already changed the city of Philadelphia, helping garner support to make MOPD a permanent fixture in the city in a vote that passed by 86 percent.

“It just shows that when you allow communities to lead, it changes the outcome,” Nieves said.

The map has had a ripple effect, bringing millions in grant funding to the city. That funding has enabled training for over 70 percent of Philadelphia’s workforce, and in late 2023, the city became the first in the U.S. to be certified Sensory Inclusive. Nieves argued that as something that offers a high-yield impact for relatively low effort, “Investing in accessibility is good business.”

She argued that accessibility benefits everyone, noting that people with disabilities make up the only marginalized group that anyone can become a member of at any time. As a person with lived experience in disability and addiction recovery, Nieves hopes to make people aware of the value of leading from this perspective and sharing hope for the future.

Now, she hopes the Disability Characteristics Map will have a national impact on the way governments work with technology, data and accessibility. First, she believes people with disabilities should be included in the work, from mapping data to strategic planning. Second, digital data portals or maps should be accessible for people with disabilities to use. As she put it, the people represented in the data need to help make decisions about the way their stories are relayed.

She believes reshaping data practices can help address longstanding issues related to poverty, employment and more: “I think if we have better data, and better access to the data that relates to the lived experience of people with disabilities, we can absolutely shape how we address those longstanding systemic issues across the nation.”

Nieves now serves as public affairs specialist for the United States Access Board, a federal agency working to advance accessibility.

This story originally appeared in the May/June 2024 issue of Government Technology magazine. Click here to view the full digital edition online.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.