Wednesday, October 1, 2014

No longer left behind--emergency preparedness planning in NY City will include people with disabilities due to landmark legal victory

From Center for Independence of the Disabled, NY(CIDNY). Pictured is an inaccessible entrance to an evacuation shelter in NY City.

Time after time, New Yorkers with disabilities affected by disasters were locked out of shelters, couldn’t get out of high rises to get food, water, services or medicine, couldn’t use the transportation that everyone else used to evacuate, and couldn’t even get life-saving information. Now they can look forward important changes as a result of a landmark victory in CIDNY’s civil rights lawsuit.

Federal Judge Jesse Furman agreed with plaintiffs including CIDNY, BCID, Tania Morales and Gregory Bell, that the City had not planned adequately for the needs of people with disabilities during disasters and emergencies, violating federal civil rights law.  The judge instructed the plaintiffs from the disability community, represented by Disability Rights Advocates, and the City to negotiate remedies. 

On September 30, 2014, we delivered agreements to the Judge. Once these agreements become part of the City’s plan, New York City will be a national leader in emergency preparedness. The next step is creating and implementing a fully integrated plan of action in emergencies and disasters that include people with disabilities. 

Susan Dooha, CIDNY’s Executive Director, said, “Nearly 25 years after passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we have achieved a landmark decision to end exclusion of people with disabilities from the planning for emergencies and disasters.  Finally, New Yorkers with disabilities will be able to evacuate to accessible shelters. They will get timely, appropriate information in ways they can use. No one will be left on the side of the road because of a lack of accessible transportation.  We look forward to working with the Mayor and the City’s agencies to take these agreements from the page to the real world.”
After lengthy negotiations, the disability community and the City have agreed on memos of understanding that will, in part, make sure that by 2017 the City will:

·         create a minimum of 60 accessible shelters throughout the five boroughs can serve approximately 120,000 people with disabilities;
·         create a canvassing operation that will go door-to-door to find people who need help getting resources like food, water, electricity and care;
·         develop plans for effective accessible transportation; and
·         create a task force to create a plan for high rise evacuation and power outages. 

At the same time, the City will create a Disability Community Advisory Panel that includes members of the disability community and will be consulted by the City in developing emergency plans. The City will also hire a top-level Disability and Access and Functional Needs Coordinator who will be the lead employee responsible for overseeing that the City’s plans meet the needs of people with disabilities and comply with state and federal law. If you would like more information or would like to be involved, contact Susan Dooha, or call 212-674-2300.