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Some hi-tech toilet troubles

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Questions as to whether the planned automated public toilet at the 69th Street Pier will be accessible to people in wheelchairs have the local community board requesting clarification on the subject from the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT).

Community Board 10 voted at its June meeting, held in the community room at Shore Hill, 9000 Shore Road, to write the agency regarding the matter, brought up by board member Jean Ryan, who uses a wheelchair. The automated toilet model was touted by DOT as being “fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),” in a May 29th press release from the agency.

“All wheelchair bound individuals (including motorized) or those who require the assistance of an aide, should not be excluded from being able to utilize this valuable and necessary resource,” wrote CB 10 Chair Dean Rasinya and District Manager Josephine Beckmann in a June 17th letter to Janette Sadik-Khan, DOT commissioner.

At the board meeting, Ryan said that the new automated public toilet made by Cemusa – which would be the second in the city to be installed – could pose problems for some wheelchair users.

“People with motorized chairs can get in but the doors might not close,” Ryan told the group.

Ryan also said that a wheelchair user who is accompanied by someone to provide help might experience the same problem, because the doors are operated by a weight sensor that has a maximum limit.

Motorized chairs weigh as much as 300 or 350 pounds, Ryan explained. “If you weigh more than 450 or 500 pounds, the door won’t close,” she said.

In addition, Ryan said, buttons used to flush or get toilet paper are located where they are difficult for some handicapped people to access from the toilet.

“So,” she stressed, ‘They are not usable to everyone with a disability.”

The board vote was to “send a letter to DOT stating that we want an automated toilet on the 69th Street Pier which will be fully accessible to people with disabilities, will be in compliance with or exceed ADA regulations for indoor restrooms and will have a floor/door sensor setting which will allow a large disabled person with a motorized wheelchair and an attendant to use the restroom.”

“The problem,” stressed Rasinya, “is that some of the ADA guidelines may not always keep up with technology.”

Nonetheless, board members were concerned about the possibility of losing the facility. “I’m in favor of it,” noted Judie Grimaldi. “But, I’d hate to lose the toilet entirely in an effort to get the appropriate toilet.”

“It’s a floor with sensors in it,” replied Ryan. “I don’t know why they couldn’t put a sensor in with different settings.” DOT, she added, “hadn’t gotten back to us (disability advocates) in six months.”

DOT referred a request for comment to Cemusa. Nigel Emery, a spokesperson for that company, said that the company’s automatic toilets, “Comply with ADA standards and have a number of features to accommodate wheelchair accessibility.

“For example, the weight limit accommodates a wheelchair and second person if needed to assist, and access to emergency buttons and outside access panels are easy to reach and found at multiple levels,” Emery said. “The design incorporates smooth and level surfaces covered with a rubber non-slip mat for easy wheelchair maneuverability. The interior is made of stainless steel for safety.”

The automated toilet planned for the 69th Street Pier is one of 20 that Cemusa is contracted to install and maintain in the city over the next two decades. The company will also build and maintain 3,300 new bus shelters and 330 newsstands, providing a total of $1.4 billion in revenue to the city. The first automated toilet was installed in January in Madison Square Park, in Manhattan.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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