Introduction

Newsletter – April 2006 (page 4)

Newsletter – April 2006 (page 4)

GOVERNMENTAL NEWS

New York City Parks not ADA-Compliant

The New York State Comptroller recently issued a report on accessibility at facilities operated by New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation (“Parks”).  “Parks” maintains approximately 28,700 acres of parkland, including almost 4,000 facilities that encompass nearly 1,000 playgrounds, 800 athletic fields, 550 tennis courts, 63 swimming pools, 35 recreation centers and 14 miles of beaches visited by millions of individuals every year.  The agency’s capital budget for fiscal year 2004 totaled $465 million.

According to Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), no otherwise qualified individual with disabilities should be excluded from participation in a governmental program or activity.  The Comptroller’s report shows that “Parks” failed to make its facilities ADA-accessible.

When “Parks” upgraded its facilities, officials did not develop a Transitional Plan establishing an overall timetable for providing accessibility.  As a result of “Parks”’ piecemeal approach, new or altered facilities are often noncompliant because they fail to contain accessibility elements.  “Parks” did not appoint an ADA Coordinator to oversee ADA implementation efforts and resolve ADA-related complaints, nor did it establish a grievance process for complaints.  The agency does not actively publicize its ADA-accessible services on its website, in pamphlets or maps or by the placement of signage at facilities.  “Parks” does not always use signage to identify facilities that are accessible, and it does not post signs about locating accessible alternatives when facilities do not meet the ADA Guidelines.

There is no logic regarding which accessibility elements are incorporated into “Parks”’ projects:

  • Wheelchair-accessible ramps led to comfort stations that did not have ADA-compliant stalls at Maria Hernandez Park (Brooklyn), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Park (Brooklyn) and Midland Beach Playground (Staten Island).
  • “Parks” spent more than $19 million over 9 years at Riverside Park in Manhattan, but none of its comfort stations is ADA-accessible.
  • After completing capital improvements to the 79th Street entrance and walkways of Riverside Park, several of the newly finished walkways still led to physical barriers such as stairs and slopes.
  • “Parks” spent $34.4 million at Van Cortland Park (Bronx) over a 10 year period but, the walkways around the park’s lake were not level, and there was a raised threshold in the doorway of a men’s comfort station in the Nature Center which blocked wheelchair access to what was an otherwise ADA-accessible facility.

The Comptroller’s recommendations to “Parks” include a major revision in the way it plans and implements capital projects to ensure that they are ADA-compliant.  Among them, “Parks” must establish a Transitional Plan with timetables for making facilities and services ADA-compliant, and ADA accessibility is to be incorporated in all new and major alteration projects.  The agency must appoint an ADA Coordinator to oversee all ADA implementation efforts, identify and investigate complaints and develop grievance procedures for handling complaints alleging ADA noncompliance.  Information regarding accessibility is to be posted on “Parks”’ Internet site, and international signage will be posted at each accessible entrance of a facility and at all inaccessible entrances, directing users to an accessible entrance or to a location where they can obtain information about alternative accessible facilities.

We hope that in light of this scathing report “Parks” and the City administration will redouble their efforts to set an example for all New Yorkers by making its facilities ADA-compliant.  The full Comptroller’s report is found at http://www.osc.state.ny.us/audits/allaudits/093006/04n6.pdf


Obscure VA program can help disabled vets

A program that could open the door to the increasingly restrictive Veterans Administration (VA) health care system and provide money for assisted living and home health care is the little-known Aid and Attendance program.  Since 1951, the program has provided monthly payments to disabled or homebound veterans and their spouses who have high out-of-pocket medical costs.  The eligibility formula balances income against medical bills, so middle-class vets can qualify for payments as high as $1,744 a month.  However, a recent study found only about one-fourth of eligible veterans and one-sixth of eligible widows are participating in the Aid and Attendance program.

The program may be especially useful to veterans now that the VA has clamped down on new health care enrollments for those without service-connected disabilities.  In 2003, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs created what is called “Priority 8,” a classification that effectively barred access to VA clinics, hospitals, physicians and medications for people over certain income limits.

According to federal statistics, California, with 2.3 million civilian veterans, had 17,378 denials last year of applications to enroll in the VA health care system because of Priority 8.  Florida, which has the second highest number of civilian veterans with 1.8 million, has a substantially higher denial rate with 27,465 applications rejected last year based upon Priority 8.

The Aid and Attendance program offsets all unreimbursed medical expenses against a veteran’s income.  Therefore, an applicant whose income exceeded the Priority 8 limit might find himself or herself eligible under the Aid and Attendance Program if their medical costs are high enough.  A doctor must certify that a veteran or spouse has conditions requiring the “aid and attendance” of another person or care center in order to live safely.  Veterans who qualify for the Aid and Attendance Program automatically receive full VA health care and prescription benefits.

There are private companies that can help veterans or their care facilities apply for benefits under the Aid and Attendance Program.  While they charge a fee for their services, state and county Veterans Services Officers often provide these services free of charge.  However, private companies will sometimes advance money to a care facility until the VA approves the benefit.  State and local governments cannot provide that service.

 

The following story, from Noel Neudeck, who, totally as a volunteer, heads “Wheelchair Access Now Today” in CA, also addresses the plight of veterans, but in addition it speaks to the difficulties of getting corporate America to “do the right thing” when it involves the disabled.

April 18, 2006, 7:31 a.m.

Saving America’s Steakhouse

Calling on Hilton to be the kinda corp it claims to be.

By Shoshana Bryen

Few Americans would argue that American soldiers should not receive the thanks of our nation for their service, and fewer still would argue that, if returning to our country less than whole and in need of help, soldiers should not receive the support of America’s corporate giants.

Hilton Hotel Corporation, then, has something to answer for.

Every Friday is Veterans’ Day at Fran O’Brien’s Stadium Steakhouse in Washington, D.C., where owners, Hal Koster and Marty O’Brien, bring soldiers — primarily amputees — recovering from their wounds at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospital to the restaurant and treat them and their families to a full steak dinner. It is often the first place soldiers appear in public after losing limbs and it is a coveted part of their therapy. You can see the progression — new attendees hang out mainly in the private party room; regulars migrate to the bar in the main part of the restaurant, mingling with patrons and buying drinks.

But Fran O’Brien’s is located in the Capital Hilton Hotel and the lease ran out in December. The owners had been asking for a new lease since the fall and management had been assuring them it would be renewed. Two weeks ago, they were given until May 1 to vacate.

There are two possible scenarios, and neither says much for Hilton.

Scenario number one says Hilton is worried about a lawsuit. The hotel is in violation of Americans With Disabilities Act. Hilton has not made the basement restaurant ADA compliant — part of the lease negotiation was to have been for the replacement of a non-working escalator in the Hilton lobby with an ADA-compliant elevator. Since there were no negotiations, there is no elevator. The soldiers have been using a steep stairwell or the service elevator. Perhaps Hilton doesn’t know that there have, in fact, been several accidents, but the soldiers, being soldiers, are more interested in dinner than lawsuits.

ADA noncompliance is illegal, but more importantly, it is shameful when the chief victims are veterans who have been injured in service to our country. But the compliance issue is the better of the two possibilities.

Scenario number two is that Hilton is uncomfortable with so many wounded soldiers passing through its lobby on the way to the restaurant and worries about the impact it will have on the hotel guests.

Hilton’s website proudly boasts of its corporate philanthropy and starts its paean to itself with, “We at Hilton recognize our responsibility to corporate citizenship wherever we do business.” How better to be responsible corporate citizens than to continue to house Fran O’Brien’s and the wounded soldiers it serves?

Hilton has been inundated by calls and e-mails from Americans who are appalled to see veterans treated shabbily by a corporate giant. The Capital Hilton’s website Monday — for a few hours — announced the eviction of Fran O’Brien’s as “strictly a business decision” and that the hotel had offered to host a dinner for the troops on May 5. But by evening, the notice was gone and the website had its usual advertisement for the restaurant.

Col. Jonathan Jaffin, at the time commander of the medical corps at Walter Reed, wrote of the dinners:

The benefit to these soldiers and their families is incalculable… While the steak dinner is in itself a treat for those who have been eating in a dining facility … the meal is so much more than a dinner: it is a night out, a chance to get away from the hospital environment for a few hours, an evening to do something as normal as going to a restaurant for dinner. Even more, it is a tangible demonstration of the support, respect, and even love that Americans feel for our troops.

Hilton Hotels should be doing everything it can to ensure that our soldiers have a safe, friendly, ADA-compliant Fran O’Brien’s as a “tangible demonstration of the support, respect and even love” that a corporate giant can show to our troops. Anything less is unworthy of a major American corporation.

— Shoshana Bryen is director of special projects for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), a proud supporter of the Fran O’Brien’s Friday-night dinners.


 We wrote in our September, 2005 newsletter about the following problem concerning airlines and service animals, and we included therein a copy of our letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation.  It is obvious that much more work needs to be done on this matter:

Allan Appel: Disabled people’s animals may soon find the skies uninviting

©Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers, March 21, 2006 Reprinted by permission.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has proposed new rules that would make the skies very unfriendly for disabled people traveling with service animals.  The DOT would regulate changes in the Air Carrier Access Act. These proposed changes would allow airlines three options if a service dog is too big to sit in the small amount of space directly in front of the owner’s seat.

The three options include charging the disabled passenger for an extra ticket, or putting the dog in the cargo hold; or making the passenger and dog wait for a later flight. All three of these alternatives are outrageous and unacceptable.

Charging the passenger for a second seat would disenfranchise many disabled people, unable to pay two fares.

Shipping the dog in the cargo hold is both unacceptable and fraught with danger for the animal. Separating the service animal from the disabled passenger threatens the person’s independence. And it has been estimated about 5,000 animals shipped in the cargo hold are lost, injured or killed every year.

Making the team wait for a later flight likewise makes no sense. First, the same crowded conditions may exist on other flights. Also, the passenger may be forced to miss connections or scheduled pick-ups or appointments at the destination.

The current airline practices provide for an empty seat where space is available, or asking for a volunteer to share leg space with the service dog. This policy has served both the airlines and the public well. It imposes no financial burden on either the airline or the disabled passenger. And it also happens to implement the very spirit of the Air Carrier Access Act.

Service animals may include guide dogs for the visually impaired. Service dogs also help people who are deaf or otherwise have low hearing capacity and may assist people with difficulty maintaining balance or warn of an impending seizure or other unanticipated events.

This new measure, first proposed in November 2004, may go into effect as early as this summer. Contact your local congressmen and senators to urge DOT to withdraw this proposed rule immediately.

Thousands of disabled people who travel with service animals are depending on our support.

Allan Appel writes a biweekly column about disabilities. He can be reached c/o Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers, 1939 S. Federal Highway, P.O. Box 9009, Stuart, FL 34994, or e-mail at aappel223@yahoo.com.

"Newsletter – April 2006" table of contents

  1. Newsletter – April 2006
  2. AND NOW, THE UPDATE
  3. INFORMATION RESOURCES ON AND OFF THE WEB:
  4. GOVERNMENTAL NEWS
  5. MISCELLANEOUS ITEMS OF INTEREST
  6. CONCLUDING THOUGHTS: