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Testimony Regarding Creation of Standards Regarding Accessibility for People with Disabilities to Waterborne Transportation in NYC

Hello, and thank you for the opportunity to speak today on this issue. I am Alexander Wood, executive director of the Disabilities Network of NYC, and I am here today speaking on behalf of the 1.6 million people with physical disabilities living in NYC. The Disabilities Network of New York City is a coalition of consumers, advocates and professional organizations representing and working on behalf of people of all ages with motor and sensory disabilities. The Network seeks, through systems advocacy, to promote full participation of people with physical disabilities in the life of the city by strengthening appropriate citywide policies, resources, services and legal protections; assuring reasonable accommodations; and building informed and accurate public perception about people with disabilities.

For the last several months, many members of the disabilities community have been concerned about the lack of access to service provided on passenger ferries in NYC. We are concerned because we hear that in 2012 NYC may host the Olympics, and that one of the plans around those events are to link all the sporting venues around the city via waterborne transportation. As many of you know, after the Olympics come the Paralympics, the contests for athletes with disabilities, and in order to win the bid the City must prove itself accessible. Without wheelchair accessible taxis and liveries, without a workable subway system (less than 40 out of 428 stations are accessible), and with a Paratransit system fraught with problems, our next best bet is an accessible ferry system.

Not only is this important for the Olympics, but it is important for tourism. Tourism represents one of the top revenue producing industries in NYC. For several years I worked as access coordinator at Big Apple Greeter a nonprofit working out of the Manhattan Borough President’s Office since 1992 to welcome visitors to NYC by pairing them with knowledgeable New Yorkers on free 3-4 hour visits to neighborhoods they know and love because they live or work there. Since my days at Big Apple Greeter I have watched the NYWaterways shuttle buses pass on the streets wondering how they could get away with providing a service that did not even attempt to offer accessibility for wheelchair users, as one look at any of the vehicles shows there is no lift.

In fairness, I must say that in recent meetings with officials at NY Waterways last Fall, we have heard some encouraging things: they hired a guy to run their bus services who used to run Paratransit in Nassau County, and that he has 15 wheelchair lift-equipped buses on order, that have probably been delivered by now, and will soon be in service.

We looked at plans for a new pier behind the Javits Center at a meeting last summer at the Economic Development Corporation, and it is accessible by design, so the shape of things to come is improving, but passage of this legislation will ensure (hopefully) that in the future, service will not be slapped together and accessibility added as an afterthought.

In addition, many members of the DNNYC have filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission  about denial of service by NY Waterways last summer when we protested inaccessibility at Pier 11 on September 12, and we have heard nothing for several months from them. Let us resolve to work together to press our case and have the City Commission on Human Rights mediate an acceptable settlement.

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