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APRIL 2017

 

WHAT WOULD FDR DO?

Advocates Sue State for Access to Park

Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a nonprofit legal center, recently filed a class action lawsuit in federal court on behalf of individuals with physical disabilities alleging that lack of accessibility at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The New York state Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and the Four Freedoms Park Conservancy are named in the suit. Plaintiffs include the Brooklyn Center for the Independence of the Disabled (BCID) and several New York City residents who use wheelchairs.

The park, opened in 2012, is on Roosevelt Island. It is named after President Roosevelt, who was a wheelchair user.

According to plaintiffs, accessibility barriers pervade the memorial, including a large flight of stairs leading up to the entrance of the monument. While paths exist around the base of the memorial, they circumvent the bulk of the monument and are comprised of uneven stones that make travel difficult for manual or power chair users.

After traveling a long distance down a side route, a chair user must begin an arduous back-tracking ascent up a path made of gravel to appreciate the vistas in the same way a non-wheelchair user can do. At the opposite end of the memorial is a sunken terrace that provides an uninterrupted view of the East River, yet steps block wheelchair users from reaching that point. Plaintiffs also cite an inaccessible gift shop and non-ADA compliant restrooms.

“I’ve heard that those who run the park say that we can just enjoy the view afforded by the sunken terrace from elsewhere,” said Edith Prentiss, a plaintiff who uses a wheelchair and has visited the park many times. “I find that offensive in the ‘back of the bus’ sort of way. I feel like they’ve prioritized their own aesthetics over our right to visit the memorial and are now waving away our concerns by saying ‘What you got is good enough anyway.’ It’s not.”

“I am an FDR buff. He’s my hero,” said Phil Beder, also a plaintiff who uses a wheelchair. “It’s patently ironic that a memorial built in honor of him is rife with barriers for wheelchair users. Frankly, it makes me both mad and sad.”

“In a park dedicated to freedom, the choice to deny freedom of access to people with disabilities is just plain wrong,” said Joseph Rappaport, BCID’s executive director. “Denying the right of people with disabilities from enjoying the park fully isn’t in keeping with FDR’s life and legacy.”

“The memorial was built very recently, decades after the ADA, and New York state should know better,” said Michelle Caiola, litigation director at DRA.

“We can’t figure out what they were thinking, but to leave it as is would give unfettered license to continue building important public spaces with no regard for the civil rights of persons with disabilities.”

The suit seeks injunctive relief towards remedying all elements of inaccessibility, allowing visitors with mobility impairments to visit the memorial on equal terms with everyone else.

 

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