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Introduction to our LES Accessibility Project

The Cooper Square Committee (CSC) is forming a committee to launch a Lower East Side Accessibility Project. We held our first meeting on February 3rd, 2011. We welcome participation and input from persons with disabilities as we work to launch this project in 2011. We also welcome ideas for accessing funds and staffing resources for this project.

Background — The Need for More Accessible Housing and Public Accommodations:

The Lower East Side’s housing stock is among the least accessible to disabled people of any neighborhood in New York City. With over 2,970 residential and mixed use buildings in 2000, comprising 69,545 households, the typical Lower East Side building is a 5 – 6 story old law tenement built prior to 1920. These walk up buildings often have 1 step up at the entrance, and the majority have a vestibule with additional steps in the vestibule leading to the ground floor apartments. Making the existing housing stock more accessible to mobility impaired people is a major challenge. There are financial and architectural constraints that need to be addressed on a case by case basis.

The accessibility issue will only continue to become more pressing as the population ages. In 2000, 22,101 (13.4%) of the Lower East Side’s 164,407 residents were senior citizens (65 and over). This rate is 15% higher than for NYC as a whole, which was 11.7% in 2000. Seniors comprise 12.1% of the US population in 2000. The senior population is expected to grow to 19% in the US by 2030, and the Lower East Side is likely to exceed this percentage.

25.2% of Lower East Side households have one or more seniors residing in them.  According to the US Census, 10% of seniors aged 65 – 74 need assistance with everyday activities.  25% of seniors ages 75 – 84 need assistance, and 50% of seniors 85 and over need assistance with everyday activities.  Seniors 85 and over are the fastest growing age group among the elderly.  Enabling seniors to live at home, rather than be institutionalized, is a more cost effective approach to serving seniors in their communities.  Mobility impairment and other disabilities are not limited to senior citizens.  2% of persons ages 15 – 64 have a disability that puts them in need of assistance with everyday activities according to the US Census.

Project Goals and Objectives:

Identify Inaccessible Public Accommodations:  CSC’s Accessibility Project plans to focus initially on making public accommodations more accessible. In 2009-2010, we conducted a preliminary physical survey of 120 public accommodations between 14th St. and Delancey St., east of the Bowery. We looked at day care centers, after school and recreational programs, senior programs, drug and alcohol treatment programs, and more. We found that 41 of the spaces (34%) did not have accessible entrances. Many of the programs that were housed on multiple floors were not accessible beyond the ground floor.

Begin A Dialogue/Workshops to Address the Acces: CSC plans to begin a dialogue with operators of public accommodations (PAs) and building owners in order to make many more public accommodations accessible to the public. We plan to invite program operators to training workshops so that legal experts can educate them about what is required under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the NYC Human Rights Law. CSC will follow up with property owners and PA operators to assess what is financially and architecturally feasible.

Expand the Accessibility Project:

CSC is not currently funded to do any work regarding this pressing issue. Ideally, we would like to work with residential buildings, but this will require staffing resources and capital funds, which we don’t currently have.