Thursday, December 25, 2014

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NY1 For You: Wheelchair User Claims She Could Not Enter Storm Evacuation Shelter

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TWC News: NY1 For You: Wheelchair User Turned Away From Storm Evacuation Shelter
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Locked doors at the end of a handicap ramp kept a Brooklyn wheelchair user from evacuating to a shelter during Hurricane Irene. NY1's Susan Jhun filed the following NY1 For You report.

When Hurricane Irene hit, wheelchair user Tania Morales of Beverly Square East, Brooklyn tried to evacuate to the local city shelter, only to be turned away.

"The gate for the ramp was locked and they couldn't find the keys to open the gate," says Morales.

She had to turn around in the hurricane and go home.

"I just felt very scared," she says.

Advocates for the disabled were assured that city shelters would be more accommodating.

On the day of the hurricane, however, Susan Dooha, the executive director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York, conducted a site survey at six city shelters and found eye-opening conditions.

"The city Office of Emergency Management had told us that people with disabilities would have equal access," says Dooha. "What I found were locked ramps, locked doors, locked gates. Ramps that were really dangerous."

Dooha says these conditions were especially egregious since CIDNY had been working with OEM since September 11th to make sure the disabled have access in case of an emergency.

NY1 called OEM and a spokesman claimed the agency did not receive any such complaints that day.

"I reported all of these issues," Dooha says.

More importantly, Dooha says this is not a matter of complaints, but a matter of a systemic failure to make sure emergency systems are accessible and accountable.

Still, the OEM spokesman said if there was a problem with entry, the person should have called 311. Morales responded that is not exactly practical for a disabled person out in the middle of a hurricane.

The OEM spokesman also said only six of 81 shelters were visited by CIDNY, which is not representative of the agency's overall effort.

But in Morales' case, one shelter was enough.

"I'm not the only one whose going have the same problem," says Morales.

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