SUNY Purchase College Ignores the Needs of Wheelchair Users

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July 26, 2016 – Purchase, NY – A class action lawsuit filed today in federal court alleges that the State University of New York at Purchase College violates federal and state disability law by not providing students and visitors with mobility disabilities equal access to its educational and cultural programs.  Specifically, the suit says that those who use wheelchairs or have mobility disabilities encounter widespread physical access barriers along the campus’ paths of travel that can prevent students and visitors from getting to classes and cultural attractions.  For example, SUNY Purchase does not provide adequate ways—like functioning elevators—to navigate up the stairs and hills that lead to the most important part of the campus.  Other hazards and hurdles include uneven and crumbling pavement, missing curb cuts, dangerously steep slopes, and woefully insufficient signage to routes intended for people with disabilities.

SUNY Purchase, a public four-year college in Westchester County, offers degrees in the arts, liberal arts and sciences.  It also serves as a cultural hub, welcoming visitors to its Performing Arts Center and the Neuberger Museum of Art, and various summer camps for grade-school students and events designed for local families and seniors.

Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a national nonprofit legal center, brings this suit on behalf of the Westchester Independent Living Center (WILC), a nonprofit advocacy center that works on behalf of people with disabilities, and two individuals with mobility disabilities who have encountered the access barriers first-hand.

Kayle Hill, a currently enrolled student explained, “It is difficult to get around for students like me who have a disability.  Instead of being able to just focus on being a student, I always have to think about how to get to class and other activities on time in spite of obstacles like steep hills, broken elevators, and confrontations with staff about my accessible parking pass.”

WILC Community Advocate and wheelchair user Michael Hellmann said, “Members of our community want to go to SUNY Purchase to see performances, art exhibitions, or to audit classes. Unfortunately, the college has failed to consider our safety and convenience and we then  have to think twice about whether attending an event or class at SUNY Purchase is worth the extra struggle.”

Christina Brandt-Young, Senior Staff Attorney at DRA, explained, “We can only imagine how many would-be students and visitors are discouraged from attending this college because of these ongoing barriers to accessible paths of travel.”  She continued, “The law in this area has been clear for decades and a state-funded institution has no excuse for non-compliance.”

The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York and seeks remediation of all campus physical access barriers.

A copy of the Complaint is available below.

About Disability Rights Advocates (DRA)
Disability Rights Advocates is one of the leading non-profit disability rights legal centers in the nation.  With offices in Berkeley and New York City, DRA’s mission is to advance equal rights and opportunities for people with all types of disabilities nationwide.  DRA represents people with the full spectrum of disabilities in complex, system-change, class action cases.  July 2016 marks the 26th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  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

Michelle Caiola, Managing Attorney, (212) 644-8644