Left out! Neighborhood parks and playgrounds exclude disabled, activist claims

Big letdown: Bay Ridge disabled rights-activist Jean Ryan points out the drop-off that once kept her from enjoying a day at McKinley Park with her grandson.
Photo by Bess Adler

Brooklyn’s parks and playgrounds are no fun for the handicapped, according to a disabled civic leader who wants the city to make the borough’s recreation areas more wheelchair accessible.

Community Board 10 member and grandmother Jean Ryan — who has been confined to a wheelchair for the past 17 years — says she takes her grandson to Bay Ridge’s McKinley Park near the corner of Seventh Avenue and Bay Ridge Parkway often, but is unable to take her grandson on the swing set because a small step separates it from the rest of the playground.

“It’s discrimination,” she said.

Ryan claims that the rest of McKinley Park is a harrowing obstacle course for anyone who uses a cane, crutches, walker, or a wheelchair — violating standards for public parks outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The bathrooms alone are nightmares for disabled Brooklynites, Ryan claims: the handrails on the ramps leading into the bathrooms are 41 inches high — three inches above the maximum height allowed under federal guidelines — making it near impossible for a person in a manual wheelchair to reach the facilities.

Inside the women’s room, a heavy oil drum-shaped garbage can blocks the entryway, and the handicapped stall doesn’t have the mandatory bars users need to get on or off the toilet, she said.

“If able-bodied people can use the bathrooms, why can’t disabled people?” she said.

Ryan said that several Bay Ridge parks are handicapped-unfriendly, including:

• Russell Pederson Playground at the corner of 83rd Street and Colonial Road. Ryan claims that the bathrooms have two-inch door saddles that are four times higher than the law allows.

• Leif Ericson Park on Fifth Avenue between 66th and 67th streets. The women’s room entrance is four inches above the ground. The men’s room is even with the ground, but only has a three-foot turning radius — making it difficult for someone in a wheelchair to make the sharp turn needed to get to the toilet.

• Shore Road Park off of Fourth Avenue. Ryan says several of the curb cuts are too high for wheelchairs.

The 94th Street Playground. The park can only be accessed by steps, Ryan says.

The 79th Street Playground. The bathroom has steps, making it difficult, if not impossible, for the disabled to reach with ease.

Ryan claims that the city should make all of these parks, as well as several others throughout the borough, more handicapped accessible, because disabled residents have the same right to use the city’s public spaces as everyone else.

“We count, we pay taxes, and we want to go to the park with our friends and loved ones too,” Ryan said.

A city spokesman said the Parks Department is still trying to meet the standards outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law in 1990.

All of Ryan’s complaints will be taken care of in time, the spokesman said.

“Parks is currently hard at work on an agency-wide transition plan to make all aspects of the Parks Department more accessible,” the spokesman said.

Yet Ryan is skeptical that the work will get done in her lifetime, and called on the city to go beyond the Americans with Disabilities Act to install playground equipment that disabled children, parents, and caretakers can enjoy.

“People don’t know what it’s like being disabled,” Ryan said. “We just don’t want to be excluded.”

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at (718) 260–4507 or e-mail him at wbredderman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/WillBredderman

Pointing fingers: Ridge resident Jean Ryan says the city has fallen short of meeting Americans with Disabilities Act standards, as with this four-inch-high ledge going into the women’s room at Leif Ericson Park.
Photo by Bess Adler

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