As a young lawyer working for the City of New York, Jim Weisman represented his employer in a meeting with members of the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association who were seeking improved accessibility to public transit. He felt that these veterans were being wronged and stated this in front of his superiors during the meeting. When they suggested that he "shut up," he quit his job with the city and was offered a position with the veterans organization by 2018 NYSILC Hall of Fame inductee Terry Moakley.
Today, Jim is president and CEO of that organization, now known as the United Spinal Association, which has expanded beyond serving veterans to supporting all individuals with spinal cord injuries and disorders, as well as their caregivers and the medical professionals who treat them.
Early in his career with what was then still called the EPVA, Jim commenced a lawsuit against New York City and its transit system to make buses and subways accessible to wheelchair users. The case was settled successfully in 1984, requiring the transit authority to make buses and key subway stations accessible and create a paratransit program for those who cannot use accessible transportation. In 1988, a similar lawsuit was filed and settled in the city of Philadelphia, leading to a similar set of reforms.
The transportation provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act are based on the settlement agreements in those two lawsuits. Jim was a key negotiator with members of Congress during the two years leading up to the passage of the ADA. He was also appointed to the Federal Advisory Committee Act group that drafted US Department of Transportation ADA regulations. In 1995, he was appointed to the United States Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board to write architectural standards to implement the ADA.
In later years, Jim and United Spinal spearheaded lawsuits against New York City to require curb ramp installation and against the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission to require more accessible yellow cabs. So far, $360 million worth of curb ramps have been installed, and 50 percent of cabs must be accessible by the end of 2020.
Jim is an original, continuous and current board member of the American Association of People with Disabilities, a grassroots disability rights and policy organization headquartered in Washington, D.C. He has also been involved with New York State Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals With Disabilities, Community Action for Legal Services, the Bar Association of the City of New York Disability Law Committee and other organizations.
Jim has lobbied at the state and national levels and made presentations to groups, businesses and conferences all over the world concerning the rights and needs of people with disabilities. For 30 years, he has written a monthly column for Able, a newspaper for people with disabilities.
Jim has received numerous honors and awards for his service to the disability community. As he prepares to retire from United Spinal, NYSILC is proud to induct him into the Disability Rights Hall of Fame as the capstone of a long career.
To watch Jim's award acceptance speech, click the video below: