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Judge Rules City Fails To Meet Needs Of Disabled During Emergencies

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TWC News: Judge Rules City Fails To Meet Needs Of Disabled During Emergencies
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As they marked the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy last month, city officials said they were much better prepared to respond to future disasters. But a federal judge ruled Thursday that the city’s emergency plans violate federal law by failing to account for the needs of the disabled. Bobby Cuza filed the following report.

On the recent anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, city officials said they were better prepared to respond to future disasters. A federal judge disagreed, ruling on Thursday that the city violated the law by failing to meet the needs of the disabled during emergencies.

“This is where I weathered the storm,” said Melba Torres.

Torres lives in an 8-floor apartment building in the East Village. She was trapped in the building for six days during and after Hurricane Sandy. The only communication from the city, she said, was a flier before the storm.

“When the flier came, it was already that Sunday, it was 5:40. And they were shutting the elevators down and as you know, I live on an eighth floor, so how could I have left?” she said.

Even if she could have left the building, many of the buses provided were not accessible. Shelters were not either, factors cited by Torres and others in a class-action lawsuit first brought in 2011 after Hurricane Irene.

On Thursday, Jesse M. Furman ruled mostly in their favor, finding the city violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and other statutes.

“It has deprived people with disabilities of what they are entitled to under the law,” reads the ruling.

“They have endangered the lives of people with disabilities,” said Susan Dooha, head of the Center for Independence of the Disabled, another plaintiff in the case.

“Judge Furman’s decision is groundbreaking. We believe that it will make a life and death difference in the lives of people with disabilities in New York City,” Dooha said.

The lawsuit did not seek monetary damages, but rather changes to the city’s emergency plans, which the judge for now is leaving to the two sides to negotiate.

His ruling did note there was no evidence of intentional discrimination and that the city has in many ways done an outstanding job on emergency preparedness.

The responded to the ruling with a statement from Michael Cardozo of the Law Department.

"While we are disappointed with the Court's conclusions, we are gratified it recognized that the City's extensive planning is impressive. … Planning for the needs of people with disabilities has always been and remains a priority for the City,” reads the statement.

The city said it’s assessing next steps, but an appeal seems unlikely given the looming transition to a de Blasio administration, which may have its own ideas about how to handle the case.

The two sides are due back in court December 3.

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