Suit Challenging N.Y.C.’s Failure to Make Sidewalks Safe for Disabled New Yorkers Moves Ahead

New York City, NY – June 1,2015 – A federal judge cleared the way today for a major class action suit against the City to proceed. Disability Rights Advocates (“DRA”) and Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP, on behalf of the Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York (“CIDNY”) filed a landmark civil rights lawsuit alleging that New York City violates Federal disability civil rights laws by failing to make its sidewalks and pedestrian routes accessible to people who use wheelchairs or are blind.  The City attempted to have the suit dismissed.  That motion was denied today by federal Judge George Daniels.

The suit alleges that many of the City’s sidewalks and pedestrian routes are dangerous and difficult to navigate for persons with disabilities.   Hazards include frequent pedestrian crossings lacking curb ramps as well as existing ones that are broken or too steep. Wheelchairs users often must change travel plans in order to avoid whole areas with inaccessible streetscapes or roll over curb ramps with barriers that threaten to topple them.  Also, the majority of curb ramps in the City have no required detectable warnings or contrasting features that signal to blind and low-vision pedestrians that they are about to leave the sidewalk and enter the path of traffic.  Read the complaint for additional details: http://dralegal.org/wp-content/uploads/files/content/filed_stamped_complaint.pdf

More than 400,000 New Yorkers with ambulatory disabilities and more than 200,000 with vision disabilities continue to be excluded from the pedestrian culture that is so vital to an active community life in New York City. Many fear venturing out alone because of the broken and dangerous sidewalks.

The suit alleges that for nearly three decades, the City has ignored its legal obligations to provide curb ramps and accessible pedestrian routes whenever it resurfaces City streets or alters its street and sidewalks.  The lawsuit specifically focuses on fixing the sidewalks and pedestrian routes below 14th street in Manhattan, an area used by hundreds of thousands of pedestrians every day.  As Michelle Caiola of DRA’s New York office described, “The area below 14th street is home to centers for civic participation like City Hall and the Courts. It is the home of Wall Street, the 9/11 memorial, and the departure point for visiting the Statute of Liberty. It is a national hub of business and commerce.  Without access to the streetscape here, persons with disabilities are excluded from critical governmental services and a multitude of valuable New York City experiences.”

Susan M. Dooha, Executive Director of Center for Independence of the Disabled, NY (CIDNY) remarked, “It has been 25 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act became the law of the land, yet we’re still waiting for New York City to comply with its requirements and make sidewalks safe for all of us. Today, Federal District Court Judge Daniels gave the green light to let us be heard in court on curb cut accessibility. We’re proud of CIDNY’s Board, staff and consumers for their hard work and commitment to civil rights. Thanks to DRA and Sheppard Mullin for ably representing us.”

Daniel Brown, a Partner at Sheppard Mullin Richter and Hampton said, “This litigation seeks to require the City to make changes to its sidewalks that it should have made decades ago. It’s a shame that it’s going to take litigation to ensure that everyone has access to the fundamental civic right to travel freely and safely.  We’re confident that this case will bring about justice for New Yorkers with mobility impairments and who are blind.”

About Disability Rights Advocates (DRA)

Disability Rights Advocates is one of the leading nonprofit disability rights legal centers in the nation.  With offices in Berkeley, California and New York City, DRA’s mission is to advance equal rights and opportunities for people with all types of disabilities nationwide.  DRA’s recent work in New York City has resulted in a landmark settlement to make half of the City’s taxi fleet accessible to wheelchair users, a federal court order requiring the City to make its polling sites accessible to voters with disabilities on Election Day, and a victory at trial in in the class-action lawsuit challenging New York City’s failure to plan for the needs of persons with disabilities in large scale disasters such as Hurricane Sandy.  More information can be found at dralegal.org.

About the Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York (CIDNY)

The Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York is a leading advocate for people with disabilities in New York City.  It was founded in 1978 to ensure full integration, independence and equal opportunity for all people with disabilities by removing barriers to the social, economic, cultural and civic life of the community.  In 2013, CIDNY served nearly 18,000 New Yorkers. For more information, please see http://www.cidny.org/.

About Sheppard Mullin Richter and Hampton LLP

Sheppard Mullin is a full service Global 100 firm with 670 attorneys in 15 offices located in the United States, Europe and Asia.  Since 1927, companies have turned to Sheppard Mullin to handle corporate and technology matters, high stakes litigation and complex financial transactions.  In the U.S., the firm’s clients include more than half of the Fortune 100.  Sheppard Mullin also has a long tradition of providing legal services to people and community organizations who could otherwise not afford access to critical legal representation. For more information, please visit www.sheppardmullin.com.

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Contact Information

Michelle Caiola, (212) 644-8644, mcaiola@dralegal.org
Disability Rights Advocates NY

Daniel Brown, (212) 653-8100, dbrown@sheppardmullin.com
Sheppard Mullin Richter and Hampton LLP