On the right to accessibility during COVID – a statement by WWP Disability Rights and Justice Caucus

This statement on the right of accessibility during the COVID pandemic was affirmed by the Disability Rights and Justice Caucus of Workers World Party and delivered by WWP DJRC member Renée Imperato at a New York City action on Dec. 3, International Day of People with Disabilities.

The obstruction of accessibility has reached a new high in major U.S. cities.

In New York City for example, the COVID lockdown produced the following violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, in about this order: 

First there was the creation of sidewalk dining, which obstructed or severely limited navigating, especially for people with mobility constraints, such as people who use wheelchairs or crutches or canes. This has forced some disabled people to use the street and face dangerous vehicular traffic. 

Then came the existence of “gutter restaurants,” which use the street curb lane to erect what amounts to small buildings. These obstruct access to street crossings and create extremely dangerous blind spots, especially when they are set right up to the crosswalk. Disabled and even able-bodied people can only be seen by motorists in an instant of time. This is incredibly dangerous!

Next — and almost absolutely unbelievable — is that without any prior notification, streets are closed off to traffic for the ridiculous reason that restaurants have to set up tables in the middle of the street — for someone to eat a salad! And all motorized traffic — including public bus routes — must be detoured to other streets. 

Imagine a wheelchair user going to the corner where they live to take a bus and they find no bus access, because the street is blocked off. Now we have to move our wheelchairs sometimes as much as a quarter mile or more to take a bus. This is an insurmountable and sometimes impossible task to navigate. 

One could understand if there were a fire or gas explosion that would warrant a street closing. But to do this so some individual can eat a plate of pasta is a violation of human rights that is unacceptable. 

We might add that even able-bodied workers have been late to work for these completely unacceptable and totally unnecessary obstructions. Note that these private businesses do not pay any rent to the city and are using public spaces paid for by working people.

Let’s organize to stop these human rights violations! They must be stopped.

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