Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Civil rights advocates challenge New York City’s failure to make its sidewalks safe for wheelchair users, blind people

Press release from DRA: (The image is from Streets Blog NYC here.)

New York City, NY – July 30, 2014 – Today, Disability Rights Advocates (“DRA”) and Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP, on behalf of the Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York (“CIDNY”), filed a landmark civil rights lawsuit in federal court alleging that New York City violates Federal disability civil rights laws by failing to make its sidewalks and pedestrian routes accessible to people who use wheelchairs or are blind. 

As we enter the 25th year of the Americans with Disabilities Act this week, more than 400,000 New Yorkers with ambulatory disabilities and more than 200,000 people with vision disabilities continue to be excluded from the pedestrian culture that is so critical to community life in New York City, because nearly all of the City’s sidewalks and pedestrian routes are dangerous and difficult for persons with disabilities. 

Dangers include corners at pedestrian crossings without curb ramps for wheelchair users or corners with hazardous curb ramps that are too steep or broken, which often end up forcing persons using wheelchairs to modify travel plans, avoid whole areas with inaccessible streetscapes, or roll over curb ramps with barriers that threaten to topple a wheelchair. The majority of curb ramps in the City also have no required detectable warnings or contrasting features that signal to blind and low-vision pedestrians that they are about to leave the sidewalk and enter the path of vehicle traffic. Read the complaint at 

For nearly three decades, the City has ignored its obligations to provide curb ramps and accessible pedestrian routes whenever it resurfaces City streets or alters its street and sidewalks. The City has also failed to make timely improvements to its existing sidewalks so that wheelchair users and the blind can safely travel to critical areas, such as those involving city and government services, community events and commerce, among others. 

The lawsuit focuses on fixing the sidewalks and pedestrian routes below 14th street in Manhattan, an area used by hundreds of thousands of pedestrians every day. As Julia Pinover of DRA’s New York office described, “The area below 14th street is home to centers for civic participation like City Hall and the Courts. It is the home of Wall Street, the 9/11 memorial, and the departure point for visiting the Statute of Liberty. It is a national hub of business and commerce. Without access to the streetscape here, persons with disabilities are excluded from critical governmental services and a multitude of basic New York City experiences.” 

Indeed, for wheelchair users like Dustin Jones, each of the 4-5 trips he takes to lower Manhattan every week are rife with danger. Mr. Jones commented, “Barriers at curb ramps have left me stuck in the street where I have had to rely on the kindness of strangers to help me up on the sidewalk. Poorly placed curb ramps have forced me right into the path of vehicle traffic where I fear for my safety. I should not have to fear for my life every time I attempt to go downtown.” Myrna Driffin, a Chelsea resident and grandmother of 15 who is totally blind said “I don’t feel safe walking around downtown. Just last week I ended up in the middle of the street before I knew I was off the curb. Cars were honking at me. It was really scary. I am a smart lady and I have been blind almost my whole adult life, but New York City streets are so poorly marked that this happens regularly.” 

 “The safety issue is front and center in my mind. If we are to reach the Mayor’s Vision Zero, we have to make it possible for people with disabilities to cross the street safely, to go to work, home, and out for the evening with friends using the sidewalk like non-disabled New Yorkers. Walkable and roll-able communities are also important for health and wellness for people with disabilities” said Susan Dooha who is the executive director of organizational plaintiff CIDNY. CIDNY has offices below 14th street and a mission of serving persons with disabilities. She added “We are concerned because many of our employees and volunteers have physical or sensory disabilities and all of the persons we serve have disabilities. All should be able to come to CIDNY, and travel around lower Manhattan, without worrying about whether the City has basic access features on its sidewalks.” 

Daniel Brown, a Partner at Sheppard Mullin Richter and Hampton said “This litigation seeks to require the City to make changes to its sidewalks that it should have made decades ago. It’s a shame that it’s going to take litigation to ensure that everyone has access to the fundamental civic right to travel freely and safely, but we’re confident that this case will bring about justice for the New Yorkers with mobility impairments and who are blind.”

 About Disability Rights Advocates (DRA): Disability Rights Advocates is one of the leading nonprofit disability rights legal centers in the nation. With offices in Berkeley, California and New York City, DRA’s mission is to advance equal rights and opportunities for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. DRA’s recent work in New York City has resulted in a landmark settlement to make half of the City’s taxi fleet accessible to wheelchair users, a federal court order requiring the City to make its polling sites accessible to voters with disabilities on Election Day, and a victory at trial in in the class-action lawsuit challenging New York City’s failure to plan for the needs of persons with disabilities in large scale disasters such as Hurricane Sandy. More information can be found at

About the Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York (CIDNY): The Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York is a leading advocate for people with disabilities in New York City. It was founded in 1978 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. In 2013, CIDNY served nearly 18,000 New Yorkers. For more information, please see

About Sheppard Mullin Richter and Hampton LLP: Sheppard Mullin is a full service Global 100 firm with 670 attorneys in 15 offices located in the United States, Europe and Asia. Since 1927, companies have turned to Sheppard Mullin to handle corporate and technology matters, high stakes litigation and complex financial transactions. In the U.S., the firm's clients include more than half of the Fortune 100. Sheppard Mullin also has a long tradition of providing legal services to people and community organizations who could otherwise not afford access to critical legal representation. For more information, please visit