FDR memorial park not wheelchair friendly, lawsuit claims

FDR memorial park not wheelchair friendly, lawsuit claims
Posted at 1:34 PM, Mar 18, 2017

(CNN) -- If Franklin D. Roosevelt were alive today, the former President would have trouble accessing a New York memorial built to honor him, a lawsuit says.

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island is a memorial to the man who was stricken with polio in 1921 but went on to lead America through the Great Depression and World War II -- from a wheelchair.

A class-action lawsuit filed Thursday by several advocacy groups for disabled people claims the park has numerous features that make it difficult for wheelchair users to enjoy the property.

"I am an FDR buff," plaintiff Phil Beder, who uses a wheelchair, said in a statement released by the group Disability Rights Advocates. "He's my hero. It's patently ironic that a memorial built in honor of him is rife with barriers for wheelchair users."

Among the park features that limit access to disabled persons, according to the suit:

-- 22 stairs leading to a view of the city and a bust of FDR do not include any ramps. Wheelchair users have to negotiate a "long, uneven path" and go up an incline.

-- A terrace at one end of the park can only be reached by stairs.

-- The gift shop and restrooms on the site do not comply with design rules under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

"The Memorial was built very recently, decades after the ADA, and New York State should know better," Michelle Caiola, litigation director at Disability Rights Advocates, said in the prepared statement.

The site was opened in 2012, according to the park's website. Its name refers to freedoms outlined by Roosevelt in his 1941 State of the Union address.

The park's website also says that it is wheelchair accessible and that wheelchairs are available free of charge for visitors.

"We have not had the opportunity to fully review the class-action suit," Madeline Grimes, Director of Communications and Marketing at the Four Freedoms Park Conservancy, one of the defendants in the case. "Four Freedoms Park is -- and always has been -- committed to accessibility for people with disabilities. We take accessibility issues very seriously and strive to meet the needs of all of our visitors."

CNN reached out to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation -- the organization and its commissioner Rose Harvey are also defendants in the case -- for comment but did receive a response by publication time.

The suit seeks a fix to any parts of the memorial that limit access.

"In a park dedicated to freedom, the choice to deny freedom of access to people with disabilities is just plain wrong," said Joseph G. Rappaport, executive director of the Brooklyn Center for the Independence of the Disabled, which joined the suit.