Four-Freedoms-Park

Edith Prentiss sits before the staircase separating her from the FDR monument.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park was built in 2012 on New York City’s Roosevelt Island to honor the 32nd President of the United States, but based on recent lawsuit, Franklin D. Roosevelt himself would’ve had difficulty accessing it. On March 16, the nonprofit legal center Disability Rights Advocates filed a class action lawsuit in federal court on behalf of individuals with mobility impairments, alleging that the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and the Four Freedoms Park Conservancy are in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The plaintiffs, who include the Brooklyn Center for the Independence of the Disabled and several New York City wheelchair users, allege the park is inaccessible due to a number of architectural barriers. Those include a large flight of stairs leading up to the monument, paths of gravel and uneven stone that bypass a majority of the memorial, and steps that inhibit access to a sunken terrace with a view of the city and East River. The lawsuit also claims a lack of accessibility in the gift shop and restrooms.

“The memorial was built very recently, decades after the ADA, and New York State should know better,” said Michelle Caiola, litigation director at DRA. “We can’t figure out what they were thinking, but to leave it as is would give unfettered license to continue building important public spaces with no regard for the civil rights of persons with disabilities.”

FDR, who began using a wheelchair after acquiring polio, helped advance polio research and treatment, and became a prominent icon for wheelchair users. Plaintiffs argue that the park’s lack of accessibility tarnishes his legacys. Plaintiffs argue that the park’s lack of accessibility violates the same rights he championed.

Joseph G. Rapport, executive director of the Brooklyn Center for Independence says: “In a park dedicated to freedom, the choice to deny freedom of access to people with disabilities is just plain wrong. Denying the right of people with disabilities from enjoying the park fully isn’t in keeping with FDR’s life and legacy.”

As of publication, the New York State Department of Parks hasn’t responded to a request for comment.