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Meet the Man Making NYC More Accessible for New Yorkers With Disabilities

(DNAINFO)  Amy Zimmer | August 16, 2016 — Ted Finkelstein heads the city’s Equal Access Program for the Commission on Human Rights.

Though Ted Finkelstein is trained as a social worker, he’s become an expert in architecture and accommodating New Yorkers with disabilities, developing an uncanny ability to tell within a quick inspection whether a ramp or lift can be built where there are currently stairs.

“I’ll look at how many steps there are, how wide they are, how high they are and see what’s possible,” said Finkelstein, the head of the Equal Access Program for the New York City Commission on Human Rights, who’s been working quietly behind the scenes for the past 36 years to help thousands of New Yorkers with disabilities get what they need to enjoy their apartments, offices and public spaces.

“I’m not an architect, but I’ve been doing this long enough that I’ve got a pretty good idea what can or can’t be made accessible,” added Finkelstein, who always carries his tape measure as he drives around the city investigating discrimination complaints.

In New York City — where nearly one in eight residents live with a disability — human rights laws prohibiting discrimination based on disability and promoting equal access are more expansive than state and federal laws.

City laws require housing or service providers and employers to make a “reasonable accommodation” for people with disabilities and foot the bill for any needed structural modifications, unlike the federal law which requires that owners allow people with disabilities to make the changes, but at their own expense.

Also, under the city’s human rights law, if an accommodation is not made voluntarily — or though some sort of conciliation — a judge will determine what is “reasonable” and could award significant civic penalties or compensatory damages to the disabled individual.

Finkelstein tries to find a resolution before it gets to that. He’s become a deft mediator, negotiating with landlords, co-ops and condo boards, and employers as well as others who provide public accommodations, like restaurant owners, banks and schools.

“In most cases, landlords will give me a hard time — not because they’re bad people, but because of a misinterpretation of what the law is. So I’ll tell them the law: you have to make a reasonable accommodation.”

Even though it takes some coaxing, roughly 90 percent of complaints are resolved without litigation, Finkelstein said.

“[Landlords] say, ‘Why should I build a ramp? This isn’t a nursing home, and when she moved in she was able-bodied.’ And I say, ‘Under the New York City Human Rights Law, you have to make a reasonable accommodation unless you have undue hardship,’” Finkelstein said. “The term I hear most often: ‘I’m grandfathered in.’ I say, ‘I don’t care if your grandfather owned the building. Discrimination is not grandfathered in.’”

Source: Meet the Man Making NYC More Accessible for New Yorkers With Disabilities – Washington Heights – DNAinfo New York