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Disability rights groups sue MTA, say NYC subway renovations without elevators break the law

The New York Daily News - 5/15/2019

May 15-- May 15--Disability rights groups filed a major lawsuit against the MTA Wednesday, arguing the agency's repeated decisions to complete major subway station renovations without adding handicap-accessible features violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The suit specifically refers to the statute of the ADA requiring public entities make transit stations accessible to those with disabilities and those who use wheelchairs whenever it changes the usability of a station. It cites more than 40 examples of major station renovation projects the MTA has completed without adding elevators or accessible features since the ADA was enacted in 1990.

"The MTA for decades has egregiously violated the law by renovating stations and not making them accessible," said Joe Rappaport, executive director of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled. "It's long past time access is first among the MTA's priorities, not an afterthought or not thought of at all."

In March, US District Judge Edgardo Ramos ruled on another similar suit, filed by nonprofit Bronx Independent Living Services in June 2016.

The case highlighted that two years after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority completed extensive renovations at the elevated Middletown Rd station that included replacing the stairs but did not come with the addition of elevators.

The federal government intervened in that suit in 2018, and U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in March that Ramos' ruling requires the MTA to install an elevator whenever it renovates a station.

Wednesday's suit is filed with the intention of holding the MTA accountable.

"In the Middletown Rd suit, the judge's ruling is specifically geared towards what happened at that specific station," said Michelle Caiola, managing director at Disability Rights Advocates, which was behind the legal action, as well as the new lawsuit. "What this does is broaden this and say the MTA did not just violate the ADA at Middletown Rd, but they've been doing it for many years across the system."

Just 25% of the city's 472 subway stations are accessible to people with disabilities, making it the least accessible subway system in the country.

The MTA plans to make 50 more stations accessible over the next five years as a part of NYC Transit President Andy Byford's$40 billion "Fast Forward" plan to overhaul the city's transit networks over the next decade.

The agency is facing another major lawsuit from disability rights groups. A collection of advocacy organizations filed a suit in state court in 2017 arguing the subway's lack of accessibility violates the anti-discrimination requirements of the New York City Human Rights Law.

A court hearing for that case will be held next week.


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