The object: ensuring public buildings don’t pose undue obstacles. The means: allowing action at the state instead of federal level.
A new law effective Jan. 1 will make it much easier for disabled New Yorkers to assert their rights and file complaints about discrimination when public facilities fail to reasonably accommodate their disability.
Instead of pursuing costly litigation in federal court, they will be able to file certain complaints with the state Division of Human Rights. They can do so at any Division of Human Rights center throughout the state.
If the agency finds probable cause of a violation, an agency-appointed attorney will present the complainant’s case. In addition, the state can initiate and investigate complaints.
“There will probably be more complaints filed because of this, and it will cost taxpayers,” said Karen Guidarelli, an advocate for disabled people in Farmington, where a task force is evaluating recreational needs. “But if you’re disabled and you can’t get access to a restroom or a sidewalk, why should you have to spend your life savings” to file a suit in federal court?
According to Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s office, the statute does not present businesses or government agencies with a new or unfamiliar set of rules to follow but simply brings state law in alignment with the 1990 federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
“It is critical that the state provide individuals with disabilities full and equal opportunities,” said the governor in a written statement. “This law is a significant step towards a New York that removes barriers to the full enjoyment of the rights of all of its citizens.”
The new rule applies not only to proposed facilities such as those in Farmington — an activities lodge and outlying park restrooms — but also to existing buildings. This last specification could prove costly to some municipalities that may not have complied with all the ADA requirements.
Farmington Town Supervisor Ted Fafinski said he wasn’t familiar yet with the incoming law. However, he added, “it appears to be another reason that drives people to leave New York state because you have to tax people into oblivion to provide something a bureaucrat thinks might be a nice thing to have instead of looking at it logically and pragmatically.”
Guidarelli disagrees, saying access has actually deteriorated since the federal law was established.
“A lot of municipalities have been able to slide,” she said. “There are so many things we could do that are relatively inexpensive, cost-effective ways to become more accessible that we have not taken the time or effort to do.”
In the greater Rochester area, the closest Division of Human Rights office is located on the third floor of the government building at 259 Monroe Ave. downtown. The phone is (585) 238-8250.
Contact Billie Owens at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 320, or at email@example.com.