March 17, 2017 / 9:30 PM / 3 years ago

New York park named for disabled FDR sued by wheelchair users

NEW YORK (Reuters) - People confined to wheelchairs are unable to fully enjoy a New York City park named after President Franklin Roosevelt, one of the most famous wheelchair users in U.S. history, a class-action lawsuit claims.

The suit, filed on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, contends that the design of Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park inhibits access by wheelchair users and violates laws that require public facilities to reasonably accommodate disabled people.

The suit was filed by the advocacy group Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled and three wheelchair users who said they were either unable to reach all parts of the park or did so with difficulty because of the absence of ramps.

Michell Caiola, one of the attorneys who filed the suit, said the gift shop and restrooms are inaccessible, and some of the walkways are either gravel or cobblestone, making them difficult to navigate by wheelchair.

“This was dedicated to a president who had a disability and used a wheelchair for mobility,” she said.

The architectural barriers could have been avoided during planning and construction of the park, the complaint says.

Roosevelt, who served as president from 1933 until his death during his fourth term in 1945, was paralyzed by polio when he was 39.

The park, located on the southern tip of New York City’s Roosevelt Island in the East River, is dedicated to Roosevelt’s famous “Four Freedoms” speech, delivered on Jan. 6, 1941.

The address, delivered months before the United States entered World War Two, articulated four universal rights that the president said all people deserved.

The wheelchair users said they wrote last August to the Four Freedoms Park Conservancy, which operates the park, and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, but never got a response.

Howard Axel, chief executive of the conservancy since November, said he was unaware of any effort by the plaintiffs to contact the organization but “would welcome” a meeting.

The park was designed by architect Louis Kahn in 1973, well before 1990 enactment of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires full access. It opened in the fall of 2012.

Reporting by Peter Szekely; Editing by Tom Brown

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