U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
Disability Rights Section
OMB No. 1190-0009
Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Discrimination Complaint Form
Instructions: Please fill out this form completely, in black ink or type. Sign and return to the address on page 3.
Complainant: Anne C. Woodlen
City, State and Zip Code: Syracuse, New York 13210
Government, or organization, or institution which you believe has discriminated:
Name: City of Syracuse
233 E. Washington St.
State and Zip Code: New York 13202
Telephone Number: (315) 448-8005
When did the discrimination occur? Date: Ongoing—first notified City in September 2009
Describe the acts of discrimination providing the name(s) where possible of the individuals who discriminated (use space on page 3 if necessary): Failure to repair inaccessible curb-cuts and sidewalks.
I am a disabled person who uses a power wheelchair. In January 2009 I moved to my current address in the City of Syracuse and found the surrounding area to be compromised by broken sidewalks and unusable curb-cuts.
On September 25, 2009, Pete O’Connor of the Dept. of Public Works and I walked/wheeled the five-block area bounded by Harrison Street, Almond Street, Adams Street and University Avenue. He noted fourteen violations.
It is the most congested area in the city. The county’s two biggest employers are Syracuse University and SUNY Upstate Medical Center. The Rt. 81 off-ramp to these places exits on Adams St; the Rt. 81 on-ramp enters off Harrison. During commuting times, these streets are bumper-to-bumper with traffic. Some of the streets are six lanes wide.
I live in a HUD-subsidized apartment building for the elderly and disabled at . . . . The manager estimates that at least fifty of the 180 tenants use power wheelchairs or scooters. We are out every day, and we are forced into the streets.
Further, the area at issue includes Upstate Medical Center, Hutchings Psychiatric Center and Crouse Hospital, and must be crossed to get to the V.A. Hospital. There is an extraordinarily high volume of wheelchair traffic both from residents and from those coming into the area for outpatient medical treatment.
This is no ordinary city neighborhood. This is a heavily-used, high traffic area with more than fourteen problems identified by the city in the five-block area. As a result of being forced out into the street by substandard curb-cuts and sidewalks, speeding cars have come within inches of hitting me three times in the past eighteen months.
As you will see by the attached series of emails, O’Connor (October 16, 2009) drew up a list of work that needed to be done.
Regarding broken sidewalks: virtually all the property owners are corporate, including—
NYS Hutchings Psychiatric Center
Syracuse City School District
SUNY Upstate Medical Center
Rosewood Nursing Home (part of Loretto, which has a $150 million annual budget)
Mr. O’Connor did not notify any of these corporations that their sidewalks are broken and below minimum standards. It may be arguable as to whether he has the budget for repairs, however, it is unquestionable that he has the staff to do the paper work to cite property owners. He could have notified them; he didn’t.
(N.B. It is worth noting that two blocks to the southeast, Syracuse University’s sidewalks are about 97% perfect.)
Mr. O’Connor put me off with claims that the work would be too expensive or the weather would be prohibitive. In fact, winter got off to a late start last year, and the weather was open for work for two months after we did the walk-around.
Many of the “fixes” are not expensive. Several curb-cut problems could be resolved simply by dumping some Tarvia in to build up the street. All one problem needed was a man with a can of paint to re-line the intersection.
When I went back to Mr. O’Connor this summer, he said that he couldn’t find the list he’d made. The problem is not the money; the problem is not the weather; the problem is that the city does not take seriously their responsibility under the ADA to make travel safe for people with disabilities.
In the past decade two people in wheelchairs have been killed on city streets. They probably wouldn’t have been in the streets if the curb-cuts and sidewalks were being maintained.
I variously have had face-to-face, phone and/or email contact with DPW Commissioner Pete O’Conner, ADA Coordinator Shirley Rowser, Mayor Stephanie Miner and others in City Hall. Without exception, they all have been courteous to me and willing to make contact with others in city government.
The problem is that Pete O’Connor is the only who can get the job done, and he isn’t doing it.
Regarding the walk-around in September 2009, Mayor Miner said she wasn’t responsible for things that didn’t happen “on [her] watch.” That is true. What is also true is that when she took office in January 2010, she took O’Connor from his position in the DPW and made him commissioner.
Mr. O’Connor did nothing last year and in a phone call this August he flatly stated that nothing would be done this year either. He later backed off that statement in an email.
As I write this, the sky is blue, the ground is dry, and the temperature is 70 degrees. The weather is simply perfect for a little road work.
Have efforts been made to resolve this complaint through the internal grievance procedure of the government, organization, or institution?
If yes: what is the status of the grievance? Conversations have been held with ADA Coordinator Shirley Rowser, Dept. of Public Works Commissioner Pete O’Connor and Mayor Stephanie Miner; no work has been done
Has the complaint been filed with another bureau of the Department of Justice or any other Federal, State, or local civil rights agency or court?
Do you intend to file with another agency or court?
Yes______ No__Not at this time___
U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Disability Rights – NYAV
Washington, D.C. 20530