Disability Rights Advocates has filed a discrimination lawsuit against Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City of New York, charging them with failing to include people with disabilities in emergency planning.
The lawsuit filed in Federal District Court in the Southern District of New York reflects on both Tropical Storm Irene and the 9/11 attacks. As the storm approached the city as a Category 1 hurricane, advocates say city officials’ televised announcements did not include sign language interpreters, evacuation maps were not usable to people with low vision and school buses that were used for evacuations did not contain lifts or seating areas for people with mobility disabilities.
A wheelchair user in Brooklyn named Tania Morales said she was turned away from an emergency shelter because the entrance ramp was locked and no key could be found. “I was very scared waiting outside the shelter while they tried to find the key because the wind was picking up and I did not know what I should do,” said Morales.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled (BCID) and the Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York (CIDNY). The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the nearly 900,000 New Yorkers with disabilities. Disability Rights Advocates is a nonprofit legal center specializing in class action cases.
“Our constituents and members will continue to face a threat of disproportionate harm and death if the City does not take action in addressing this problem,” said Marvin Wasserman, executive director of BCID.
“The aftermath of Hurricane Irene reveals a blatant disregard for the lives of persons with disabilities and clearly shows that our efforts over the past ten years to inform the city of its shortcomings in emergency planning were largely ignored,” said Susan Dooha, executive director of CIDNY.
Kate O’Brien Ahlers, communications director for the City’s Law Department said, “We are in the process of responding to the complaint. Once the evacuation order was issued, the City aggressively communicated the locations of the evacuation centers and also specifically targeted service providers who work with people with special needs.”
“In addition, the City mobilized paratransit vehicles, buses and ambulances to assist anyone who felt they needed help getting to an evacuation center. Everyone who called 311 asking for assistance evacuating was helped,” she added.
In filing the lawsuit, the advocates listed several components that they consider essential to an effective emergency plan. Those components include evacuating people with disabilities from their homes, providing round-trip accessible transportation to shelters, identifying and choosing accessible buildings to use as shelters, using an accessible method of communication to deliver public alerts and providing assistance to people with disabilities during the recovery phase after an emergency.
This article was published in the November 2011 issue of Able News.