Cindy Rodriguez is the Urban Policy reporter for New York Public Radio.
Opening arguments begin today in a federal trial that is expected to shine a spotlight on how disabled New Yorkers fared during recent disasters such as Hurricane Irene and Sandy. The trial stems from a class action lawsuit filed in September of 2011 by the group, Disability Rights Advocates. The group alleges the city's 900,000 disabled people are largely left out of disaster preparedness plans.
Lawyers for the disabled say the trial they will highlight problems that occurred during both Tropical Storm Irene and Sandy, including the city's alleged failure to properly locate and then rescue disabled people who found themselves trapped in freezing public housing high rises and other tall buildings after the power went out and elevators stopped working.
Advocates also say the city was too quick to shut down its access-a-ride service, a transportation system that picks up disabled people, leaving many stranded and unable to evacuate prior to the storm. The evacuation shelters were also criticized for not being wheelchair accessible.
Lawyers for the city said they strongly object to the allegations being made and would vigorously defend the city's emergency response.
"The city's emergency preparedness plans were carefully developed to serve all New Yorkers - including people with disabilities, whose needs were integrated into every stage of emergency planning," said Senior Counsel Martha Calhoun in a written statement.
Disabled people who suffered hardships are expected to testify and so are high ranking officials from the city's Office of Emergency Management, the NYPD and the Fire Department . The trial is scheduled to last two weeks. Lawyers for the disabled say they are not seeking monetary compensation but rather an improved disaster plan that meets the special needs of the city's disabled.