Monday, September 26, 2011

Federal lawsuit filed Sept. 26 alleges that NY Mayor Bloomberg, City of New York discriminate against men, women, children with disabilities by failing to include their needs in emergency planning

From Disability Rights Advocates:

NEW YORK – Major disasters in New York City such as the September 11th terrorist attack and more recently Hurricane Irene, have shown that the city is not prepared to meet the needs of people with disabilities during disasters. A lawsuit filed today in Federal District Court in the Southern District of New York alleges that Mayor Bloomberg and the City of New York discriminate against men, women, and children with disabilities by failing to include their unique needs in emergency planning.

The suit is brought by Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled (BCID) and Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York (CIDNY), two non-profit consumer-based organizations that advocate for equal rights and social integration of people with disabilities. The plaintiffs are represented by Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a non-profit disability rights legal center headquartered in Berkeley, California that specializes in high-impact cases on behalf of people with disabilities.

A decade after the September 11th terrorist attack, disabled New Yorkers continue to face disproportionately high threats of harm and death when disasters strike. During Hurricane Irene, many of the designated emergency shelters were not accessible to wheelchair users. Televised emergency announcements from city officials did not provide American Sign Language interpreters and evacuation maps from the city were not useable by persons with no or low vision. School buses used for evacuating residents had no lifts or seating areas for persons with mobility disabilities. Mayor Bloomberg suggested residents rely on taxicabs for evacuation transportation after the subways and buses stopped running but only 1.8% of taxicabs are accessible to wheelchair users.

Tania Morales, a wheelchair user living in Brooklyn, was turned away from an emergency shelter during Hurricane Irene. This was because the gate for the ramp into the shelter was locked and the shelter staff could not find the key. Ms. Morales was forced to return home and remain there during the hurricane. “I was very scared waiting outside the shelter while they tried to find the key because the wind was picking up and I did not know what I should do.” Ms. Morales still does not know which shelters, if any, will be accessible during an emergency.

This pattern of neglect will continue unless Mayor Bloomberg and the City of New York address this crucial problem and undertake emergency planning and preparedness efforts that meet the needs of New York City’s population of almost 900,000 individuals with disabilities.

Of the city’s nearly 900,000 disabled residents, more than 180,000 have a hearing disability, more than 210,000 have a vision disability and over 500,000 have a mobility disability. Therefore, it is imperative that the city implements a comprehensive cross-disability emergency plan that meets the various needs of its disabled residents.
“Our constituents and members will continue to face a threat of disproportionate harm and death if the city does not take action in addressing this problem,” said Marvin Wasserman, Executive Director of BCID.

“The aftermath of Hurricane Irene reveals a blatant disregard for the lives of persons with disabilities and clearly shows that our efforts over the past 10 years to inform the city of its shortcomings in emergency planning were largely ignored,” said Susan M. Dooha, Executive Director of CIDNY.

“It’s an absolute disgrace that a decade after the September 11th terrorist attack, there is still an absence of planning for our most vulnerable citizens. These past and recent events are symptoms of the city’s underlying problem: the lack of an emergency plan for people with disabilities,” said Plainiffs’ attorney Julia Pinover of Disability Rights Advocates - NY.

An effective emergency preparedness and planning program for persons with disabilities must include essential components, such as:

• Evacuating persons with mobility disabilities from their homes;

• Providing accessible transportation to shelters and back;

• Providing shelters that are architecturally accessible and identifying these to persons with disabilities;

• Providing an accessible public notification and communication plan for notifying persons with sensory disabilities before and during emergencies; and

• Providing assistance to persons with disabilities during recovery after an emergency.

About Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled (BCID)
Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled (BCID) is an independent living center based in Brooklyn that provides services and advocacy toward independent living for individuals with disabilities. BCID seeks to improve the quality of life of Brooklyn residents with disabilities through programs that empower them to gain greater control of their lives and achieve full and equal integration into society.

About Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York (CIDNY)
Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York (CIDNY) is an independent living center serving persons with disabilities throughout New York City. CIDNY’s goal is to ensure full integration, independence and equal opportunity for all people with disabilities by removing barriers to the social, economic, cultural and civic life of the community.

About Disability Rights Advocates (DRA)
Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) is a non-profit legal center which, for nearly twenty years, has specialized in high-impact class action litigation on behalf of people with all types of disabilities. DRA litigates nationally and has offices in New York City and Berkeley, California.