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Disability advocates challenge MTA’s station renovations under federal law

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Subway riders take the elevator at the 181st Street and Fort Washington station. 

The class action suit follows a federal judge’s landmark March ruling in disability advocates favor

Disability advocates filed a class action lawsuit on Wednesday against the MTA, challenging the transit authority’s practice of renovating subway stations without adding elevators as discriminatory under federal law.

The lawsuit, filed by national nonprofit Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) on behalf of a coalition of local groups, seeks a court order requiring the MTA to install elevators, or other accessibility alternatives, in all station renovations, along with a declaration that the MTA’s practice of “ignoring accessibility during renovations” is unlawful, according to the suit.

“The MTA has consistently engaged in major renovation projects to improve station usability for nondisabled riders—spending millions of dollars and closing stations for months to conduct the work—while systematically failing to install elevators or other stair-free routes,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed in the Southern District of New York and does not seek monetary damages.

Currently, only a quarter of the subway system’s 472 stops have lifts. The MTA did not immediately return a request for comment.

“It’s long past time access is first among the MTA’s priorities, not an afterthought or not thought of at all,” said Joe Rappaport, executive director of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled—a plaintiff in the class action suit.

The suit comes on the heels of a March ruling in a similar suit, also brought forward by DRA, that charged the MTA with violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it overhauled the Middletown Road station in the Bronx without installing elevators.

U.S. District Court Judge Edgardo Ramos ruled that the station renovations triggered the MTA’s obligation under the ADA to add elevators, unless doing so would be technically impossible. The ruling is poised to have a profound effect on how the MTA renovates subway stations, and Wednesday’s lawsuit takes the action a step further by applying the principal system-wide.

“The MTA needs to get their priorities straight,” said Susan Dooha, executive director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York, another plaintiff in the suit. “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.”



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