Brooklyn disability advocacy group brings case against New York City

March 15, 2013 By Charisma L. Miller, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled commenced a lawsuit against New York City alleging significant deficiencies in the city’s disaster planning as related to the disabled and elderly.

In their suit, BCID contended that during Hurricane Irene, the 2011 weather system that bore down on New York City, many shelters, while open to the public, were not accessible to disabled persons.

“Ramps into shelters were often makeshift or too steep and dangerous,” the lawsuit contends. Other ramps, the suit further alleges, “that should have been usable led to locked doors for which shelter volunteers did not have keys.”

 “New Yorkers with disabilities deserve a chance to survive disasters,” said Joan Peters, executive director of BCID.  “Yet, during [the] hurricane, they were left in the dark about critical emergency information including which if any shelters were wheelchair accessible, what types of emergency services shelters would provide, and what residents should do if they were trapped in their buildings.”

Gregory Bell, one of the named plaintiffs, commented “Accessing critical emergency information is a matter of life and death for people with disabilities.” Bell, who is blind and has diabetes, continued, “People with diabetes must know which if any emergency shelters can provide refrigeration for life-sustaining medications and offer diabetic meals. People who are blind require evacuation-zone maps in formats they can read to know whether they must evacuate and may require evacuation assistance during emergencies.”

BCID hopes that the trial will highlight that despite the supposed lessons to emergency preparedness that Sept. 11, 2011, taught the city and its officials, and the increasing number of weather emergencies, NYC still has no system to evacuate large numbers of people with disabilities from high-rise buildings and it does not know which emergency shelters are wheelchair accessible.

 “We take strong objection to the allegations made by the opposing side and will continue to vigorously defend the city’s emergency response,” said Martha Calhoun, senior counsel, General Litigation Division, NYC Law Department.

“The city’s emergency preparedness plans were carefully developed to serve all New Yorkers — including people with disabilities, whose needs were integrated into every stage of emergency planning.”

Now, after Hurricane Sandy, the second storm New Yorkers have had to contend within the past two years, the trial of BCID against the city has begun. The trial, presided over by federal judge Jesse Furman of the Southern District of New York, began on March 11, and is expected to last 8 to 10 days.

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