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Court rules majority of NYC traffic signals violate Americans with Disabilities Act

Court rules majority of NYC traffic signals violate Americans with Disabilities Act
© UPI Photo

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that New York City has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by not installing accessible pedestrian signals for the blind.

The lawsuit, brought by the the American Council of the Blind in 2018, sued on behalf of plaintiffs Michael Golfo and Christina Curry, claiming that of the city’s 13,000 pedestrian traffic signals, just over 2 percent convey information in a way that is accessible to blind pedestrians.

Approximately 205,000 blind or otherwise visually-impaired people live in the city.

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“As someone who is Deafblind and requires tactile information to cross streets safely, I am thrilled by the Court’s ruling,” Curry said in a statement.

“Up until now, at least once a day I almost get hit by a car because there is no APS telling me when it is safe to cross. This victory means that finally the city will have to install APS so that I and tens of thousands of Deafblind New Yorkers will have access to street crossing information and be able to travel safely, freely, and independently throughout the city.”

In a Tuesday ruling, District Judge Paul A. Engelmayer ruled the current “near-total absence” of accessible crossing information violates the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the federal disability law that preceded the ADA.

Engelmayer’s ruling notes that blind pedestrians in New York will typically stop at the curb and assume they are at a point where they can cross the street. Without any accessible indicator of a crossing, however, blind pedestrians cross somewhere other than the crosswalk 30 percent of the time. This leaves them to rely on other auditory cues, which is prohibitively difficult with New York’s level of ambient noise.

“[T]he Court holds that the absence of non-visual crossing information at more than 95% of the City’s signalized intersections denies plaintiffs meaningful access to the City’s signalized intersections and the pedestrian grid, in violation of the ADA and Rehabilitation Act,” Engelmayer wrote.

“The Court further holds that some, but not all, of the City’s projects with respect to traffic signals gave rise to a duty under these statutes to add APS [Accessible Pedestrian Signals]—a duty that the City has largely breached.”

Although the city has the option to argue that installing further APS would be overly burdensome, “the City has not met—or even attempted to meet—its burden of showing that the installation of additional APS would constitute an undue financial or administrative burden or fundamentally alter the nature of any City service, program, or activity,” he added.