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Judge Rejects City's Evacuation Plans For The Disabled During Emergencies

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A federal judge has ruled that New York City has violated the law by failing to adequately plan for the evacuation and protection of disabled people during emergencies such as Superstorm Sandy or the Sept. 11 attacks.

Judge Jesse Furman said Thursday that the city's emergency preparedness plans fall short of legal requirements in several significant respects.

He acknowledges that the challenges facing cities nationwide are immense.

Judge Rejects City's Evacuation Plans For The Disabled During Emergencies

Susan Dooha, executive director of the Center for the Independence of the Disabled of New York, said the decision will impact nearly a million city residents.

"It will mean that people with disabilities will no longer be locked out of shelters when a storm approaches. People will be able to evacuate from highrises when they can't get out by walking down. People will be able to get accessible transportation when the storm is on their heels," she told WCBS 880's Rich Lamb. "They will be able to be treated respectfully in shelters. People who are deaf will be able to get American Sign Language, people who are blind or have limited vision will be able to get braille or large print."

New York City has done an admirable job of preparing for a wide range of disasters, both man-made and natural, Furman said.

Judge Rejects City's Evacuation Plans For The Disabled During Emergencies

Furman said his ruling is limited to the question of liability. A separate proceeding will be held to determine remedies.

"While we are disappointed with the Court's conclusions, we are gratified it recognized that the City's extensive planning is impressive, and the efforts and valor of those responding to emergencies have been 'extraordinary,'" said NYC Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo. "Planning for the needs of people with disabilities has always been and remains a priority for the City. We are continuing to review this decision and assess our next steps."

One disabled woman said that she couldn't get into a shelter during Hurricane Irene because the wheelchair accessible gate was locked, 1010 WINS' Eileen Lehpamer reported.

Julia Pinover, an attorney for Disability Rights Advocates said that Sandy brought up even more concerns.

"We were afraid that people would get caught in high rise buildings," Pinover said.

The plaintiffs in a statement said the ruling ``is likely to have national implications in emergency planning across America, and it's a very big moment for New York City _ particularly following Sandy.''

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