Nov. 26, 2019 By Allie Griffin
A mobility-impaired Long Island City resident and a non profit organization for the disabled are suing the Queens Public Library, claiming that the new Hunters Point Library is not fully accessible to people with mobility disabilities.
The class action lawsuit, filed today in Brooklyn federal court, claims that the $41 million library violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because it isn’t “fully and equally” accessible to people with disabilities.
Plaintiffs, Long Island City resident Tanya Jackson and the nonprofit Center for Independence of the Disabled – New York (CIDNY), are suing the Queens Borough Public Library, its Board of Trustees and the City of New York to require they create a plan to make the Hunters Point Library fully accessible to people of all abilities.
“The newly-built Hunters Point Library was designed and built with a total disregard for adults and children with mobility disabilities and in flagrant contempt of the legal requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which took effect in 1992, almost three decades ago,” the lawsuit states.
The suit is based upon Jackson’s personal experience moving around the library building.
Jackson, who uses a rollator and doesn’t own a personal computer, is a frequent library user, according to the court document. When the Hunters Point Library opened this September, she was elated to have a new library just 1.8 miles from her home.
Yet, she was quickly disappointed after visiting the new library a month later. She had to use a steep ramp to get to different levels of the library and was told the rooftop was inaccessible to her and others with mobility disabilities. Now she worries that she will not be able to participate in future events the library hosts because areas of the building are inaccessible to her, the complaint states.
“Because stairs are featured throughout the Library and prevent Ms. Jackson from accessing all the Library’s benefits fully, she feels unwelcome and overlooked by all who had a hand in constructing the new Library,” the lawsuit reads. “She has been harmed, and will continue to be harmed, by Defendants’ ongoing failure to abide by its ADA obligations.”
Several other obstacles exclude people like Jackson from full use of the 22,000-square-foot library’s building, the lawsuit states.
Three levels of the library, as well as the upper level of the rooftop terrace, are only accessible by stairs. Some of the best views of the East River are from the stairs, inaccessible to those with walkers, wheelchairs and strollers.
But one of the largest issues is that there is just a single elevator in the building, which doesn’t stop at every level and has long wait times, according to the complaint.
“It is shocking to me that a brand-new public library would not be fully accessible to people with mobility disabilities like myself,” Jackson said in a statement. “Libraries should welcome everyone, not exclude whole populations of people.”
The Hunters Point Library, which opened several years behind schedule and more than $10 million over budget, has been criticized for its lack of accessibility since it first opened to the public.
A tiered mezzanine between the first and second floor of the building was the subject of criticism in October because it was only accessible by stairs, making it inaccessible to people who use walkers and wheelchairs and have a mobility disability.
The collection of books housed in the mezzanine has since been relocated to other parts of the library as a result of the criticism and the mezzanine is now a dead space where no books are shelved.
The same month, reports of several design flaws, including leaks and cracked floors, were discovered.
“Twenty-nine years after the ADA promised open doors and equal opportunities for people with disabilities, we find the doors of a brand new library shut to children and adults with disabilities,” said Susan Dooha, Executive Director of plaintiff CIDNY. “This should not be allowed to happen. The Queens Borough Public Library and the City of New York must obey the law and make this right.”
The plaintiffs, represented by the nonprofit legal group Disability Rights Advocates, aren’t seeking any monetary compensation, only that the defendants develop and implement a remedial plan to provide equal access to Hunters Point Library.
“This morning we learned that a disability rights organization filed a lawsuit against the Library and the City of New York alleging that Hunters Point is not accessible to people living with disabilities,” said Elisabeth de Bourbon, a spokesperson for Queens Public Library. “It is always the Library’s goal to be welcoming, open and available to everyone, including customers with disabilities. We are taking this matter very seriously.”
A spokesperson for the City Law Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.