New York State Division of Human Rights Probe Improves Storefront Accessibility

June 27, 2017

Commissioner Helen Diane Foster announced today that 129 stores in New York City and three surrounding counties have agreed to correct storefront barriers that obstructed access and use of the facilities by persons with disabilities. Fifty-two (52) shops have completed their modifications. The stores’ voluntary compliance followed a Division-initiated investigation into the accessibility of public accommodations, eliminating the need for DHR to file any enforcement actions.

Commissioner Foster commended storeowners for “doing the right thing and following the law. It’s important that all New Yorkers have equal access to places of public accommodation,” she said. “I salute these business owners for making the appropriate changes on their own, thereby saving taxpayers the cost of litigating this issue.”

In March 2015, the Division-Initiated Investigations (DII) Unit began reviewing storefront accessibility in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood and found that mobility-impaired customers were unable to enter multiple establishments. The probe continued into other neighborhoods in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, as well as Westchester, Putnam and Rockland counties.

The DII unit contacted the merchants to inform them that their stores were not accessible to persons with disabilities and offered assistance in reaching a mutually beneficial resolution. In many cases, the impediment represented one to three steps at the entrance, making the store inaccessible for shoppers in wheelchairs seeking to enter independently. Owners were asked to correct the obstructions within 30 days.

In response, most storeowners installed portable ramps, signage and bells to signal when the ramp is needed. However, one merchant in Manhattan’s Financial District resolved his accessibility issue by installing a permanent metal ramp at a cost of several thousand dollars. Another SoHo store, occupied by a multinational jewelry chain, put up signage notifying customers of wheelchair accessibility via their elevator. The jeweler also installed a means of signaling from outside the store when a customer needs to use the elevator.

While the investigation is ongoing, to date 52 of the 129 stores have remedied the access issues. The Division is working with the remaining stores to address the identified barriers and render those establishments accessible to all New Yorkers.

According to the U.S. Census and the New York State Department of Health, more than 2 million New Yorkers report living with a disability. The Human Rights Law affords all New Yorkers equal access to public accommodations. It may be a violation of the HRL to refuse to make reasonable modifications that would allow use of public accommodations by persons with disabilities.

New York has the proud distinction of being the first state in the nation to enact a Human Rights Law, affording every citizen “an equal opportunity to enjoy a full and productive life.” The New York State Division of Human Rights is the agency in charge of enforcing this law, which prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, and other jurisdictions, based on age, race, creed, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, military status, and other protected classes. For more information about the Human Rights Law and the work of the agency, please visit the Division’s website at www.dhr.ny.gov.