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Bloomberg’s “Irene Preps” Provoke Federal Discrimination Suit

September 27, 2011

NEW YORK - Mayor Michael Bloomberg's poll numbers may have received a boost from Hurricane Irene, but the way the city handled evacuations for people with disabilities has provoked a lawsuit.

Susan Dooha, executive director of the Center for the Independence of the Disabled in New York (CIDNY), says the federal lawsuit charges the Mayor and the City with discriminating against people with disabilities by failing to include their unique needs in emergency planning.

"We want a plan that includes shelter, transportation, communication, training and assistance."

CIDNY filed the federal suit along with the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled and Tania Morales, a wheelchair user living in Brooklyn. According to the suit, Morales was turned away from a city shelter in the hours before Irene.

Saying it hadn't seen the legal papers yet, a representative of the City Law Department said, "[T]he City aggressively communicated...the locations of the evacuation centers...and also specifically targeted service providers who work with people with special needs."

Dooha says more than half of the 900,000 people with disabilities in the city have mobility issues like Tania Morales. She says when Morales got to her assigned shelter for Hurricane Irene, the door to the wheelchair ramp was locked and nobody could find a key.

"Tania should have been able to enter the shelter in her neighborhood; instead, they sent her away with no idea of what to do."

Dooha says both Morales and the city dodged a bullet, and were lucky that Hurricane Irene did not hit the city with all the force that was anticipated. She says the city has exhibited a decade-long pattern of neglect that won't change without court action.

"Ten years after we showed the problems with emergency preparedness in the context of September 11th, it's time for a real plan that includes us."

The nonprofit legal group Disability Rights Advocates is representing the plaintiffs in the case, filed in the Southern District of New York.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY