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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Disasters and Disability

Earlier this month I wrote about the dreadful response of New York City's emergency preparedness program as it pertained to people with disabilities. In spite of ten years of planning and countless meetings the city was not prepared to meet the needs of people with disabilities. Emergency shelters were not accessible. School buses used to evacuate people had no lifts. Emergency announcements did not provide American Sign Language interpreters. Maps of shelter routes could not be used by people with low vision. More than one person that used a wheelchair was turned away from an emergency shelter. These are the mere highlights of the city's epic failure.

It seems quite evident to me that Mayor Bloomberg's administration has utterly failed to meet much less respect the rights of people with disabilities. Perhaps Bloomberg's indignant reaction in 2009 to Michael A Harris, a disability rights advocate whose tape recorder inadvertently went off at a press conference was a sign of trouble to come. Callous in the extreme, Bloomberg has given an encore performance. At a press conference after Hurricane Irene Bloomberg seemed to suggest that people with disabilities should rely on taxi cabs rather evacuation buses that were not accessible. Good luck with that one! Less than 2% of city taxis are accessible. And need I mention the so called taxi of tomorrow will not be accessible either. Catching an accessible cab even on the best of days is not easy.

Given the above I was heartened to read the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled and the Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York are suing the city in Federal District Court. The suit alleges that Bloomberg and the City of New York discriminate against men, women, and children with disabilities by failing to include their needs in emergency planning. To me this is self evident. New York is a hard place to live--I accept this as a matter of fact. However, I do not accept the Bloomberg administration making things harder for people with disabilities. What I see is a pattern of discrimination that has percolated throughout the tenure of the Bloomberg administration. I get a sense from reading the statements of disability rights advocates that the Bloomberg administrations listens to what they have to say and then completely disregards the rights of people with a disability. I also get a sense the failure of the city emergency preparedness program to meet the needs of people with a disability was the last straw. People, disabled people, could have died. Our risk is disproportionately and needlessly high. Hence I cannot help but conclude that Susan Dooha, Executive Director of CIDNY was correct when she observed "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 10 years to inform the city of its shortcomings in emergency planning were largely ignored". I am not sure what it will take for the Bloomberg administration to change. Does someone need to die before the city acts?

1 comment:

Ruth Madison said...

Very glad to hear they are suing!