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Disabled Advocates Sue MTA
Over Inaccessible Subway Stations

A lawsuit filed October 13th in federal court for the Southern District of New York alleges that the Metropolitan Transit Authority and the New York City Transit Authority discriminate against people who use wheelchairs, the elderly and anyone else living with a mobility impairment.

Disabled advocates protest MTA services

The class-action suit was brought by the United Spinal Association, whose members live with physical disabilities due to spinal cord injuries and disorders. It alleges that the MTA and NYCTA are violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for failing to make accessibility improvements required by law during subway station renovations.

The lawsuit specifically alleges that although the MTA is currently performing a $20 million renovation of the subway station at Dyckman Street and Nagle Avenue, it has failed to allocate any funding toward accessibility improvements, such as installing ramps or elevators.

A section of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that whenever alterations are made to an existing transit facility, an amount up to 20% of the budget for those alterations must be spent on improving accessibility for people with disabilities (PWDs), including those who use wheelchairs.

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According to the United Spinal Association, the MTA's failure to make necessary access improvements at the Dyckman Street Station is symptomatic of a larger problem: The New York City subway system is one of the least accessible in the nation to people with disabilities.

"Without access to the subway, the MTA makes travel next to impossible for New Yorkers with physical disabilities and prevents them from getting to work or seeking employment," said James Weisman, senior vice president and general counsel of the spinal organization. "The need to bring this lawsuit is made even more acute because the MTA has also eliminated bus routes and restricted Access-A-Ride eligibility, leaving mobility-impaired people with no transportation alternatives."

"It is an absolute disgrace that 20 years after the ADA was passed, more than 80 percent of the subway stations in New York are inaccessible," said attorney Julia Pinover of Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a non-profit law center that specializes in civil rights cases on behalf of people with disabilities. The DRA is representing the United Spinal Association in the lawsuit.

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The complaint alleges that of the 468 subway stations in New York City, only 86, or 18.5%, are accessible to PWDs. Furthermore, 382 subway stations, or 81.5%, remain inaccessible. According to the United Spinal Association and its attorneys, these stations will remain inaccessible unless the MTA meets its legal obligation to implement incremental accessibility improvements during station renovations.

"Access to the subway system is absolutely essential to life in New York City," said another counsel for the plaintiff, Sid Wolinsky. "A person who does not have access to the subway in New York simply does not have access to the range of professional opportunities, cultural events and social relationships (that) are so essential to the fabric of life in the city."

The complaint alleges that access for PWDs is especially important in Inwood, where the Dyckman Street Station is located, because the 2000 U.S. Census showed that 25.1% of residents in the ZIP code covering that station identified themselves as having a disability, 5.8 percentage points higher than the rate of disability in the population as a whole.

The United Spinal Association bills itself as an organization "dedicated to improving the quality of life for all Americans with spinal cord injuries and disorders." It was instrumental in getting New York City to create sidewalk curb ramps and accessible public transportation that has been used as a model for many United States cities.

-- Source: United Spinal Association


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