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Disability-Rights Advocates Sue MTA for Accessibility

Three-quarters of New York City subway stations still are inaccessible for wheelchair users. (Tdorante10 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)])
Three-quarters of New York City subway stations still are inaccessible for wheelchair users. (Tdorante10 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)])
May 20, 2019

NEW YORK — A federal class-action lawsuit claims New York City's subway system has broken the law by failing to make stations wheelchair accessible. The lawsuit was filed by the group Disability Rights Advocates on behalf of individual plaintiffs and a coalition of disability organizations.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires transit systems to make older facilities accessible when major renovations are done. But according to Emily Seelenfreund, an attorney with DRA, almost 30 years after the ADA became law, three-quarters of the 472 New York City subway stations still are inaccessible to wheelchair users, the elderly, parents with strollers and travelers with luggage.

"The MTA has blatantly ignored that mandate and it just continues to shut down station after station to make the station better for people without disabilities but totally ignoring the needs of the riders with disabilities,” Seelenfreund said.

Earlier this year, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it would allocate almost $3 billion for accessibility improvements in the five-year capital plan starting in 2020, up from just $248 million in the 2010 plan.

Susan Dooha is executive director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled New York, a plaintiff in the case. She pointed out that in the past, the MTA issued a report saying it would make many more stations accessible, but promises are not enough.

"The plan is only as good as their ongoing will to carry it out,” Dooha said. “And we think at this point we need a binding agreement."

She noted the MTA is still working to fulfill its obligations under a 1994 court settlement called the "key stations agreement.”

In March of this year, a federal court ruled that the renovation of a subway station in the Bronx triggered a requirement under the ADA to install elevators, which was not done. Seelenfreund said the new lawsuit seeks to build on that ruling.

"Our lawsuit is taking that lawsuit and asking the federal courts to apply it broadly to all the stations in which the MTA has ignored their customers with disabilities just like at the Middleton Road station,” Seelenfreund said.

The lawsuit seeks an order requiring the MTA to install elevators or other means of stair-free access in all renovated stations.

Disclosure: Center for Independence of the Disabled New York contributes to our fund for reporting on Disabilities. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY