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Old 03-17-2017, 09:52 AM
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Oh my Wheelchair Users Sue Over FDR Four Freedoms Park’s Major Barriers to Access

For Immediate Release:
March 16, 2017

Media Contact:
Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) Michelle Caiola, Litigation Director
(212) 644-8644 Jelena Kolic, Staff Attorney (312) 559-4660 Wheelchair
Users Sue Over FDR Four Freedoms Park’s Major Barriers to Access Site
dedicated to freedom denies freedom of access to people with disabilities
Plaintiff Edith Prentiss at the Four Freedoms Park. Photo byJoe
March 16, 2017—New York, NY—In 2012, New York City welcomed the opening
of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island. Yet
FDR, the President it commemorates who used a wheelchair for mobility,
would have struggled to take in its dramatic beauty, as the monument
begins and ends with steps. Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a
non-profit legal center, filed a class action lawsuit today in federal
court on behalf of individuals with mobility disabilities alleging that
the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic
Preservation and the Four Freedoms Park Conservancy are blatantly
violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Plaintiffs, including the
Brooklyn Center for the Independence of the Disabled (BCID) and several
New York City residents who use wheelchairs, allege they are unable to
access the Memorial in violation of long established law. Accessibility
barriers pervade the FDR Memorial in its entirety, 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 an unreasonably 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
FDR Memorial is a sunken terrace that provides an uninterrupted view of
the East River, known in architecture as a ha-ha wall. Yet steps block
wheelchair users from reaching that point. Plaintiffs also cite an
inaccessible gift shop and non-ADA compliant restrooms. Plaintiff Edith
Prentiss, who uses a wheelchair due to her mobility disability, has
visited the Memorial many times but has never been able to explore the
terrace. “I’ve heard that those who run the park say that we can just
enjoy the view afforded by the sunken terrace from elsewhere,” she said.
“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.” Phil Beder, also a Plaintiff who uses
a wheelchair says, “I am an FDR buff. He’s my hero. 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 G. 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. 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,” said Michelle Caiola, Litigation Director at
DRA. 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. A copy of the Complaint is
About Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled (BCID)
The Brooklyn Center for the Independence of the Disabled, founded in
1956, is part of the independent living movement, which seeks to empower
all people with disabilities to live full, independent lives. Our staff,
composed largely of people with disabilities, offers services and runs
advocacy campaigns to make housing, transportation and other aspects of
daily living accessible to all. BCID has worked closely on several
accessibility campaigns with Disability Rights Advocates. DRA represents
us in BCID v. Bloomberg, which forced the City of New York to agree to
new evacuation procedures for people with disabilities after Hurricane
Sandy; andTaxis For All Campaign v. Taxi and Limousine Commission, a
landmark decision requiring 50% of New York City’s yellow taxis to be
accessible by 2020. For more information, visit
About Disability Rights Advocates (DRA)
Disability Rights Advocates is the leading national nonprofit disability
rights legal center. 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-changing, class action
cases. 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
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