New York City’s Department of Education Fails to Provide Accessible Restrooms in Public School Buildings

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Disability Rights Advocates exposes blatant disregard for individuals with mobility disabilities, seeks to force Department of Education to fix lack of accessibility to restrooms and evacuation points

May 12, 2020 – New York, NY – Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a national non-profit legal center, filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the largest public school district in the nation, the New York City Department of Education (DOE). The Charge challenges the DOE’s longstanding failure to provide its employees with legally required reasonable accommodations, including an accessible restroom or a fully accessible designated evacuation point in the event of an emergency.

Dayniah Manderson, a middle-school English teacher with over 15 years of teaching experience with the New York City DOE, uses an electric wheelchair and has been unable to use a restroom at her middle school building in the Bronx for the past eight years, due to the DOE’s failure to provide an ADA-compliant facility.

Dayniah Manderson expressed, “Being able to say that I am a teacher who works with struggling public school students brings me a deep sense of pride. When there are barriers that prevent me from functioning optimally, everyone, including the students, suffer. For society to become more accepting of differences, we must expose our youth to those differences. What better way is there to teach resilience and compassion than to have a teacher there to show you how it’s done?”

For years, the DOE has disregarded Ms. Manderson’s multiple requests for a reasonable accommodation to provide her with an accessible restroom, forcing her to abstain from restroom usage during workdays that can exceed 12 hours, and to limit her consumption of fluids and food at work and avoid taking prescription medications that require drinking water. Her health is already vulnerable due to her disability, and doctors have repeatedly warned her that this practice further compromises her health.

Ms. Manderson also face barriers accessing the Fire Safety Room, the designated evacuation point in the event of an emergency for those with temporary and permanent mobility disabilities. Despite being placed on notice of this hazard, the safety room is continually used for storage, which places students and staff at risk during an emergency.

Nearly 30 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, fewer than 25% of DOE schools are fully accessible due to the widespread presence of architectural barriers. This prevalent inaccessibility harms not only teachers and staff, but also students, families, and the general public who visit DOE’s buildings throughout New York City for education, entertainment, meetings, and voting. Due to access issues, despite strong credentials, including selection to the DOE’s selective Principal’s Pool for aspiring school leaders, Ms. Manderson is significantly more limited in her ability to obtain a school leadership position at schools throughout the City.

Emily Seelenfreund, a Staff Attorney at DRA, said, “Educators have enough classroom responsibilities and should not have to shoulder the additional safety and health burdens the DOE causes when it fails to ensure employees access to reasonable accommodations. This EEOC charges aims to ensure that the DOE lives up to its legal mandate to effectively accommodate employees with disabilities.”

“The DOE has an obligation to provide accessible buildings and restrooms not just to its thousands of teachers and other staff members, but also to its over 1 million students, in addition to parents, guardians, visitors, and other building users throughout the city. Its repeated failure to properly respond to Ms. Manderson’s concerns is just a microcosm of a much greater access issue that needs to be addressed,” said Rebecca Sobie, a Senior Staff Attorney from DRA.

DRA’s goal in bringing these claims is to ensure the DOE provides accessible and safe restrooms and barrier-free emergency evacuation points in school buildings throughout the city, within the parameters of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the New York City Human Rights Law.

About Disability Rights Advocates

Founded in 1993, Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) is the leading national nonprofit disability rights legal center. Its mission is to advance equal rights and opportunity for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. DRA represents people with the full spectrum of disabilities in complex, system-change, class action cases. DRA is proud to have upheld the promise of the ADA since our inception. Thanks to DRA’s precedent-setting work, people with disabilities across the country have dramatically improved access to health care, employment, transportation, education, disaster preparedness planning, voting and housing. For more information, visit www.dralegal.org.

Contacts

Emily Seelenfreund, 332-217-2318, eseelenfreund@dralegal.org

Rebecca Sobie, 332-217-2350, rsobie@dralegal.org