New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and Disabled in Action released the results March 24 of an extensive survey of New York City’s courthouses, finding numerous accessibility barriers to people in wheelchairs.
“Access to justice is a fundamental right, yet people with limited mobility face egregious barriers like being carried to a booking area or waiting hours in a (Department of Correction)-controlled holding pen with no access to a bathroom,” said Navi Pant, senior staff attorney in NYLPI’s Disability Justice Program, in a news release. “The Department of Correction can no longer ignore these violations of basic human rights; justice demands that DOC-controlled areas of courthouses immediately be made accessible to wheelchair users.”
For the survey, the advocacy groups examined 10 of the city’s 30 courthouses. Eight of the 10 courthouses lacked proper signage, meaning they failed to properly inform wheelchair users of accessible entrances.
In regard to courthouse entrances, six of the ten provide only separate entrances for wheelchair users, which NYLPI and the DIA classified as unequal treatment.
All of the courtrooms visited during the survey contained physical barriers, such as spectator seating spaces that lacked cut-out seating for wheelchairs, or similarly unaccommodating jury and witness boxes.
Many of the bathrooms, even those labeled accessible, lacked grab bars, suitably placed faucets, soap and towel dispensers, and other requirements mandated by the U.S. Access Board.
Many of these same barriers are also present in the holding pens, i.e. where criminal suspects are held while awaiting trial. In one highly publicized incident, Banetta Grant, a wheelchair user, urinated on herself while waiting 10 to 12 hours for her case to be heard since the bathroom was inaccessible. Grant developed redness on her skin as a result.
“It’s unfair and inhumane that a person in a wheelchair is not given a place to go to the bathroom in the holding pen,” Grant stated in the report. “I was humiliated, embarrassed and felt ashamed, I don’t want this to happen to other people.”
The report called on the city to immediately begin making improvements, starting with the removal of the most egregious barriers, to bring the courthouses into compliance with the American with Disabilities Act. In addition, it called for the agencies to create a task force to oversee improvements, provide training to improve attitudinal barriers, and appoint ADA coordinators to increase accountability.