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United Spinal Association Sues MTA for Inaccessible Subway Stations

Author: United Spinal Association

Original Publication Date: 2010-10-13

Synopsis and Key Points:

Class action suit is brought by United Spinal Association whose members live with physical disabilities due to spinal cord injuries and disorders.

Main Digest

A lawsuit filed today in federal court for the Southern District of New York alleges that the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) discriminate against people who use wheelchairs, the elderly, and anyone else living with a mobility impairment.

The class action suit is brought by United Spinal Association, whose members live with physical disabilities due to spinal cord injuries and disorders. It alleges that the MTA and NYCTA are violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for failing to make accessibility improvements required by law during subway station renovations.

The lawsuit specifically alleges that although the MTA is currently performing a 20 million dollar renovation of the subway station at Dyckman and Nagle Street, it has failed to allocate any funding toward accessibility improvements, such as installing ramps or elevators.

A section of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that whenever alterations are made to an existing transit facility, an amount up to 20% of the budget for those alterations must be spent on improving accessibility for people with disabilities, including people who use wheelchairs.

The MTA's failure to make necessary access improvements at the Dyckman Street Station is symptomatic of a larger problem; the New York City subway system is one of the least accessible in the nation to people with disabilities.

"Without access to the subway, the MTA makes travel next to impossible for New Yorkers with physical disabilities and prevents them from getting to work or seeking employment," said James Weisman, SVP & General Counsel of United Spinal Association. He added, "The need to bring this lawsuit is made even more acute, because the MTA has also eliminated bus routes and restricted Access-A-Ride eligibility, leaving mobility impaired people with no transportation alternatives."

"It is an absolute disgrace that twenty years after the ADA was passed, more than 80% of the subway stations in New York are inaccessible," said Plaintiffs' attorney Julia Pinover of Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a non-profit law center that specializes in civil rights cases on behalf of persons with disabilities and represents United Spinal Association in this lawsuit.

The complaint alleges that of the 468 subway stations in New York City, only 86, or 18.5%, are accessible to people with disabilities. Further, 382 subway stations, or 81.5%, remain inaccessible. According to United Spinal Association and its attorneys, these stations will remain inaccessible unless the MTA meets its legal obligation to implement incremental accessibility improvements during station renovations.

"Access to the subway system is absolutely essential to life in New York City," said Plaintiffs counsel, Sid Wolinsky. "A person who does not have access to the subway in New York simply does not have access to the range of professional opportunities, cultural events, and social relationships which are so essential to the fabric of life in the City," he added.

The complaint alleges that access for people with disabilities is especially important in Inwood, where the Dyckman Street Station is located, because the 2000 U.S. Census showed that 25.1% of residents in the ZIP Code covering that station self-identified as having a disability, 5.8 percentage points higher than the rate of disability in the population as a whole.

About United Spinal Association -United Spinal is a national 501(c) (3) nonprofit membership organization formed in 1946 by paralyzed veterans and is dedicated to improving the quality of life for all Americans with spinal cord injuries and disorders (SCI/D), including multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, ALS and post-polio. It played a significant role in writing the Americans with Disabilities Act, and made important contributions to the Fair Housing Amendments Act and the Air Carrier Access Act. Membership is free and is open to all individuals with SCI/D. United Spinal was instrumental in getting New York City to create sidewalk curb ramps and accessible public transportation that has been used as a model for many United States cities.

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