People with Disabilities File Class Action Suit Challenging MTA’S Widespread Discriminatory Renovation Practices

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For Immediate Release:

May 15, 2019



Media Contacts:

Maia Goodell: (212) 644-8644,

Jess Powers: (646) 442-4154,

Joseph Rappaport: (718) 998-3000,


New York, NY—May 15, 2019— A civil rights class action lawsuit was filed today in New York against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), challenging its prevalent, discriminatory practice of renovating New York City subway stations without installing elevators or other stair-free routes in blatant violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This ongoing illegal conduct harms hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who use wheelchairs and other mobility devices, and also those who have heart or lung conditions, arthritis, or other disabilities that make it difficult, dangerous, or impossible to use stairs. Please see the complaint for more information.

The lawsuit was filed by Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a national nonprofit legal center, on behalf of three individual plaintiffs and a broad coalition of disability groups, including Bronx Independent Living Services; Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled; Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York; Disabled In Action of Metropolitan New York; and Harlem Independent Living Center. The law firm Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP is co-counsel with DRA.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of another lawsuit filed by DRA against the MTA in 2016. That case, in which the U.S. government intervened, challenges the MTA’s failure to install an elevator as part of its seven-month closure and renovation of the Middletown Road station in the Bronx. In March 2019, Federal Judge Edgardo Ramos ruled that those renovations triggered accessibility obligations under the ADA regardless of how much those improvements cost.  The ruling cast a spotlight on the MTA’s practice of ignoring accessibility during subway station renovations. This lawsuit focuses on the same principle, but as applied by the MTA system-wide.

“The MTA’s actions clearly demonstrate that they value amenities like Wi-Fi over serving passengers with disabilities,” said Michelle Caiola, DRA’s Managing Director of Litigation, said, “MTA has a longstanding pattern of ignoring their ADA obligations when altering stations, harming not only those with disabilities, but all New Yorkers who benefit from elevator access, including parents with strollers and senior citizens. Its disregard and negligence should no longer be tolerated.”

The New York City subway is the fastest, most convenient way to travel throughout the City. The speed, frequency, convenience, and relatively low cost of a subway ride are unmatched by any of New York City’s alternate modes of transportation, including buses, cabs, and the Access-A-Ride paratransit service. Some of these alternate modes of transportation are also inaccessible to customers with mobility disabilities, highlighting the critical importance of the subway.  

Yet, individuals with disabilities are completely excluded from more than 75% of stations that do not offer a stair-free path of travel, making traveling around the City more burdensome and, in some cases, impossible. Half of all neighborhoods served by the subway do not have a single accessible station, and subway accessibility is even more dismal in outer boroughs where a disproportionate number of people with disabilities live.

This dire situation continues because for the past several decades—in contradiction to the ADA’s requirement that accessibility be included along with station renovations—the MTA has completed numerous major renovation projects to improve station usability for nondisabled riders. The authority has spent millions of dollars and closing stations for months, while repeatedly failing to install the elevators necessary for customers with disabilities to access these renovated stations. The MTA has ignored the needs of its customers with disabilities for years.

“The MTA needs to get their priorities straight,” according to Susan Dooha, executive director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York. “When they’re already doing the work and spending money to fix a station, they need to remember to finish the job and install elevators.”

“For decades, the MTA has renovated stations at a cost of billions, blatantly evading the Americans with Disabilities Act,” 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.”

The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the MTA to install elevators or other means of stair-access in all renovated stations, as well as a declaration that Defendants’ practice of ignoring accessibility during renovations is unlawful. Plaintiffs do not seek monetary damages.

About Disability Rights Advocates (DRA)

Disability Rights Advocates is one of the leading nonprofit disability rights legal centers in the nation.  With offices in Berkeley, California and New York City, DRA’s mission is to advance equal rights for people with all types of disabilities nationwide.  DRA’s work in New York City has resulted in making half of the City’s yellow taxi fleet accessible to wheelchair users, a federal court order requiring the City to make its voting sites accessible, and a victory at trial in a class-action lawsuit challenging New York City’s failure to plan for the needs of persons with disabilities in disasters such as Hurricane Sandy.  More information can be found at

About Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled (BCID)

For more than 60 years, the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled’s mission has been to empower persons with disabilities. BCID provides services for the community, helping people advocate for themselves, and leads advocacy for better transportation, housing and in other campaigns for full access and integration into the life of Brooklyn and New York City. Visit for more information.

About Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York (CIDNY)
The Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York is a leading advocate for people with disabilities in New York City. It was founded in 1978 to ensure full integration, independence and equal opportunity for all people with disabilities by removing barriers to the social, economic, cultural and civic life of the community. In 2018, CIDNY reached more than 100,000 New Yorkers. For more information, visit

About Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, LLP

Sheppard Mullin is a full service Global 100 firm with over 800 attorneys in 15 offices located in the United States, Europe and Asia.  Since 1927, industry-leading companies have turned to Sheppard Mullin to handle corporate and technology matters, high-stakes litigation and complex financial transactions.  In the U.S., the firm’s clients include more than half of the Fortune 100.  For more information, please visit


In Light of Tragedy, Demand Subway Accessibility Now

All New Yorkers send our condolences and sympathy to the family of Malaysia Goodson, who tragically died at the 7th Ave and 53rd St subway station on Monday after she fell down a flight of stairs carrying her baby in a stroller.

Our groups – disability, transit and advocates for pregnant women – assert that this tragedy should not be in vain. Currently, fewer than 25% of the city’s subway stations are accessible. In 2017, many of our groups sued the MTA, which Governor Cuomo controls, in state court charging the lack of subway elevators is a violation of the city’s Human Rights Law. The Governor and the MTA have not settled the lawsuit.

Today, join us in urging Governor Cuomo to settle our lawsuit with a commitment for a plan of full subway accessibility.

Call Gov. Cuomo at 212-681-4580 and tell him: Make the subways safe and accessible for all New Yorkers!

Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled (BCID) • Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York (CIDNY) • Bronx Independent Living Services • Disabled In Action • NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign • People’s MTA • Riders Alliance •Rise and Resist • TransitCenter • UP-STAND

Emergency Preparedness for People with Disabilities 5 Years After Hurricane Sandy

Five years ago, emergency preparedness efforts failed people with disabilities during Hurricane Sandy.

Three years later, we won a court case against the City on disaster preparedness for people with disabilities (Emergency Preparedness Case Settlement Release). We’re taking a look at what’s changed.

In 2014, we negotiated with the City to improve emergency planning for people with disabilities. This was based on the Judge’s findings in the court order (Stipulation of Settlement and Remedial Order 2014). These negotiated commitments include:

  • making 60 City shelters accessible for people with disabilities;
  • devising a better accessible transportation plan so people with disabilities can evacuate safely before or after an emergency;
  • providing accessible communications both in messages about emergencies and for materials in the shelters so people with disabilities can understand what is going on and what their options are;
  • providing better canvassing so people with disabilities stuck in high rise buildings or in their homes after an emergency can get help, including evacuation help if needed; and
  • developing a high-rise evacuation plan for people with disabilities so that those who can’t evacuate because of their disability can get help.

So – how is the City doing and what’s changed for people with disabilities? There is some progress.

But if another major storm or emergency happened today, many in our community may still not be able to get the help they need that is required by law.

By 2017, the City was required to make 60 shelters accessible and a plan for making the rest of the shelters accessible. The City now has 30 accessible shelters. They promise to have the other 30 accessible by September of 2018. There is no projection for when the rest of the shelters will be accessible.

For those who tried to evacuate but couldn’t get to an accessible shelter during Sandy, there is progress. The City’s 30 accessible shelters do have more accommodations and supplies for people with disabilities. These include priority charging stations for equipment, accessible cots, and refrigeration for medications. Shelters also have more information in accessible formats and wayfinding materials. Shelter staff and volunteers are being trained so that they are better aware of the needs of people with disabilities and how to provide accommodations. Yet, because there are only 30 accessible shelters citywide, getting to one of them nearby still may be difficult, if not impossible, for many.

The City’s accessible transportation plan was due in August 2017. We’re still waiting.

Will there be accessible transportation to get people to accessible shelters or to families and friends if an emergency happens today? What changed for people who waited at a bus stop during Sandy only to see accessible buses pass them by because they were full? Or who stayed at home because accessible transportation was shut down early and they couldn’t get out? We still don’t know if the City has enough accessible transportation for those who need it. Or if there’s an efficient plan to provide it or drivers trained to help people with disabilities.

Canvassers help those who need to evacuate after the event or who need to get to critical medical appointments like dialysis. The City’s canvassing plan needed updating to help people with disabilities. People may need accommodations and/or supplies directly after an emergency so they can stay safely in their homes. Thankfully, the City’s plan includes a more timely response than they had for Sandy. Canvassers are better trained in accommodating people with disabilities. But it’s still unclear how canvassers will be able to help many people with disabilities. For example, those who cannot get to the door, who cannot stand long enough to answer the survey questions, those who are Deaf or who are blind, and people who have difficulty understanding what’s going on.

A high rise task force was developed to provide evacuation and transportation plans for people with disabilities in high rise buildings. This could be before or after an emergency.

We are waiting to see a plan that includes how people with disabilities will get help evacuating safely before an emergency. We don’t know what accessible transportation will be available for them. Or how they will leave with their equipment, service animals, and such. We also have not seen a plan for how they will get home after the emergency and power is returned to their buildings.

We are concerned that nothing much has changed in emergency preparedness for people with disabilities. People were stuck in their homes during Sandy because the power went out, because they couldn’t transfer out of their apartments without help, or because they couldn’t get to accessible transportation in time to evacuate.

We agree that people should try to prepare for emergencies as they can. But many New Yorkers with disabilities also live in poverty. They are not able to prepare in the way the City suggests: they cannot stockpile extra equipment, food, water, or medication. Many do not have family or friends in accessible apartments or homes that they can stay with during an emergency. Many are isolated and may not be able to reach out to neighbors. They need the City to help them have an equal opportunity to survive an emergency, just like anyone else. The City has made some progress, but we still have a way to go.

CIDNY continues to watch and comment on the City’s progress. If you want more information on the progress of emergency planning for people with disabilities, please contact