A federal judge ruled yesterday that the city practiced “benign neglect” during Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, leaving nearly a million disabled New Yorkers to fend for themselves in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The class-action lawsuit representing the city’s 900,000 residents with disabilities was brought by two nonprofit groups after Irene, but its case was strengthened after Sandy, when thousands in housing projects across the city were stranded without water or electricity.
While Judge Jesse Furman ruled that “in many — perhaps most — respects, the city has done an outstanding job” responding to the disasters, assisting those in need was not among its achievements. “Hurricane Sandy dramatically demonstrated the consequences of this failure,” Furman wrote in the ruling. “Plaintiffs provided substantial evidence that people with disabilities, unable to leave their buildings unassisted or to locate accessible transportation, remained trapped in high-rise buildings for days after the storm.” Solutions, the court said, should be in the hands of city experts “given the complexity and potential expense involved.”
But the advocacy groups involved had a special jab for the current leadership. “I have to say that the Bloomberg administration was unfortunately resistant to working cooperatively on the issue, and we look forward with the new administration to doing something constructive because that’s what’s necessary for this very vulnerable population,” said Sid Wolinsky of Disability Rights Advocates.