Today, the nonprofit Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) filed a class-action lawsuit against Queens Public Library (QPL), the Board of Trustees of the QPL, and the City of New York over the Library’s newest branch, Hunters Point Library. Designed by Steven Holl Architects, the branch in Long Island City has been facing backlash from patrons and community members since it’s opening in September for not being fully accessible to people with disabilities.
Despite disability rights laws, the newly constructed building’s circulation relies heavily on stairs which limits access and excludes many from accessing the collection altogether. While there is one elevator, it does not stop at certain levels in the library and patrons have complained of long lines and congestion. The reason that was previously given for such an omission was that librarians can retrieve materials for patrons who cannot access the stacks themselves.
Plaintiffs Tanya Jackson and the Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York are suing to require the library to fix this “unjust and discriminatory situation.” Jackson stated in a recent press release, “It is shocking to me that a brand-new public library would not be fully accessible to people with mobility disabilities like myself. Libraries should welcome everyone, not exclude whole populations of people.”
In addition to the three levels which are completely inaccessible to persons with mobility disabilities, there are reportedly numerous other barriers at the library: The children’s section contains a multi-level lounge and meeting spaces inaccessible to children and caregivers with mobility disabilities, the upper level of the rooftop terrace has no access point other than stairs, the framed panoramic views of Manhattan throughout the library are only viewable from the stairs, and designated stroller “parking” areas block circulation from the elevator to other main parts of the library.
“The ADA is not a new requirement, and it is not hard to understand. It is baffling that this $41.5 million building is missing these fundamental elements. It’s as though the library didn’t even care about these requirements, or worse, didn’t even consider the needs of these members of the community,” said Andrew Kozak-Oxnard, a staff attorney at DRA. “People with disabilities should be able to browse, relax, and enjoy the library just like everyone else.”
The lawsuit alleges violations of both federal and local civil rights laws for disability-based discrimination and hopes to rectify the situation by requiring the defendants to develop a plan that provides equal access to the library. DRA is the leading nonprofit in disability rights in the country and claims to win nearly all of its cases and “knock down barriers for people with all types of disabilities.” Rather than seeking monetary compensation, their suits aim to force reforms to systems and practices of oppression against those with disabilities.
Michelle Caiola, managing director of litigation at DRA insisted, “Hunters Point Library was meant to be a model, a state-of-the-art institution designed to serve the needs of the community. The Library’s total disregard for adults and children with disabilities must be addressed.”
The Queens Public Library provided the following statement to AN:
“This morning we learned that a disability rights organization filed a lawsuit against the Library and the City of New York alleging that Hunters Point is not accessible to people living with disabilities. It is always the Library’s goal to be welcoming, open and available to everyone, including customers with disabilities. We are taking this matter very seriously.”
Steven Holl Architects has been contacted for comment and this article will be updated accordingly.