NYC Sued for Inaccessible Sidewalks For Visually and Physically Disabled

Earlier this week Disability Rights Advocates filed a class action suit against New York City regarding the inaccessibility of NYC streets to the disabled:

"In a complaint received by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, the group, Disability Rights Advocates, said the class-action suit aimed to “end decades of civil rights violations” in what is ‘arguably, for non-disabled residents, the most pedestrian-friendly large city in the United States.’
Sidewalks and pedestrian routes, the group said, are often inaccessible for blind New Yorkers and people who use wheelchairs, walkers and other travel aids. Among the dangers, the group described curbs without ramps at pedestrian crossings, midblock barriers like raised concrete, and broken surfaces that can imperil wheelchair and cane users.
The focus of the suit is Lower Manhattan, below 14th Street, where problems are pronounced, according to the complaint.” (link)

The lawsuit, which alleges violation of both federal and city law, seeks to certify a class action of “all persons with mobility and/or vision disabilities who have been and are being denied the benefits and advantages of New York City's pedestrian rights-of-way in Lower Manhattan because of Defendants' continuing failure to design, construct, and maintain pedestrian rights-of-way that are accessible to persons with mobility and/or vision disabilities.”

 The complaint seeks only declaratory and injunctive relief – including that the City:

a. Ensure that pedestrian rights-of-way, when viewed in their entirety, are readily accessible and usable by persons with vision and mobility impairments.

b. Undertake prompt remedial measures to eliminate physical barriers to access to pedestrian rights-of-way to make such facilities accessible to Plaintiffs in accordance with federal accessibility standards.

 c. Maintain any existing accessible features of Defendants' pedestrian rights-of-way so that such features provide full usability for persons with vision and mobility impairments.

 d. Ensure that all future new construction and alterations to sidewalks and streets results in the provision of pedestrian rights-of-way that are fully compliant with federal accessibility standards;

 e. Prepare a complete Self-Evaluation and a complete and publicly available Transition Plan regarding the accessibility of existing pedestrian rights-of-way in compliance with Title II of the ADA and Section 504.

 Some interesting observations from the complaint:

a)  more than 600,000 New Yorkers with mobility and vision disabilities continue to be excluded from the pedestrian culture that is so critical to community life in New York City because many of the City's sidewalks and pedestrian routes are too dangerous for use by persons with disabilities.”  (emphasis added).
b)    “A recent survey conducted by the Center for Independence of the Disabled ("CIDNY") of 1066 curbs in Lower Manhattan found that more than seventy-five percent of the corners surveyed had barriers presenting safety hazards to persons with mobility and vision impairments, including nearly a quarter of the curbs surveyed having no curb ramps whatsoever.” (emphasis added)

Lastly, the complaint notes that the suit was filed only after the De Blasio administration “refused to provide meaningful access to their sidewalks and pedestrian routes by making improvements to curb ramps and sidewalks over a reasonable period of time” or “participate in structured settlement negotiations to discuss these proposed improvements.”

It will be interesting to see how the professedly liberal De Blasio administration handles this litigation in the long term. 

Notably, shortly before De Blasio took office, and after several years of litigation, the Bloomberg administration finally settled a class action lawsuit concerning the accessibility of NYC taxicabs to the disabled.

The De Blasio administration obviously cannot waive a magic wand and fix every sidewalk curb in a day.  But why not enter into cooperative negotiations to formulate a reasonable plan to address this problem instead of wasting money, time, and resources defending a lawsuit - only to eventually settle anyways years later? Moreover, this suit concerns the disability rights statutes that advance the progressive platform and governance the administration has repeatedly stated it is focused on making a reality in NYC?

There are a lot of potential supporters, and ultimately votes, available from the visually or physically impaired NYC community that would also make these efforts politically worthwhile - that is if these voters can safely get to the voting booth on a NYC street.