Disability rights advocates allege ADA violations in lawsuit against MTA

An individual in a wheelchair accesses the Utica Avenue subway station using an elevator. Such accessible subway stations are few and far between, according to a lawsuit filed against the MTA. Photo by Marc A. Herman/MTA New York City Transit via Flickr

An individual in a wheelchair accesses the Utica Avenue subway station using an elevator. Such accessible subway stations are few and far between, according to a lawsuit filed against the MTA. Photo by Marc A. Herman/MTA New York City Transit via Flickr

Jonathan Sperling

Advocates for people with disabilities have launched a federal lawsuit against the MTA, stating that the agency continues to violate the Americans with Disabilities Act by renovating subway stations without installing elevators or other stair-free routes.

The nonprofit legal group Disability Rights Advocates filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of three plaintiffs from around the city, as well as several organizations for people with disabilities.

The plaintiffs contend that the MTA constructed a new staircase connecting a station mezzanine to the street at the 30th Avenue subway station in Astoria without providing stair-free access, causing individuals with disabilities to risk injury when entering stations.

“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.

“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,” Caiola continued.

Lisa Forsee, a Long Island City resident who uses a walker, walking cart or two canes for mobility, is one of the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit. Forsee used to live off of the Roosevelt Island subway station, which is accessible. She moved to Long Island City after securing affordable housing.

A map of the 19 Queens subway stations considered accessible by the MTA.  Eagle  map by Jonathan Sperling via Google

A map of the 19 Queens subway stations considered accessible by the MTA. Eagle map by Jonathan Sperling via Google

Though her home is located about 5 minutes away from the Vernon Boulevard/Jackson Avenue station on the No. 7 line, Forsee is unable to safely use the station because it is not accessible. The matter was further complicated in January 2019, according to the lawsuit, when the MTA shut down two stairwells at the station “to improve access for customers without disabilities without providing stairfree access.”
“Occasionally, Ms. Forsee will struggle up the stairs at Vernon Blvd Jackson Av, risking injury, but these stairs present a significant challenge for Ms. Forsee,” the lawsuit states. “She has fallen down subway stairs, and avoids them when at all possible because she fears exacerbating her mobility issues. Ms. Forsee has also fallen down subway escalators and similarly avoids them whenever she can.”

The suit further calls out the 30th Avenue subway station in Astoria, as it remains inaccessible to those with disabilities despite shutting down for extensive renovations beginning in 2017.

The majority of the MTA’s 472 subway stations are by and large inaccessible for people with disabilities. Only 19 subway stations in Queens are considered accessible by the MTA, and at least one of the stations — Court Square — is only partially accessible, as there is no way to access the G train platform without using a staircase.

"The MTA needs to get their priorities straight,” said Susan Dooha, executive director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York, one of the organizations named in the lawsuit. “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."

The MTA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.