American Council of the Blind of New York, Inc., v. The City of New York
On June 27, 2018, DRA, on behalf of the American Council of the Blind of New York (“ACBNY”) and two individual plaintiffs, filed a landmark class action lawsuit against the New York City Department of Transportation. According to the suit, New York City violates federal law by failing to systematically implement audible and tactile pedestrian signals that would make its pedestrian routes equally usable, and safer, for people who are blind, deaf-blind, or low-vision. On July 23, 2019, the Court granted class certification for the case.
On October 20, 2020, in a decision that will remake the streetscape of New York City and improve safety and accessibility for all New Yorkers, a federal court ruled that New York City’s decades-long practice of failing to install accessible pedestrian signals (APS) violates the civil rights of people with disabilities.
New York City has over 13,200 signalized intersections with signals for sighted pedestrians that convey critical safety information: WALK or DON’T WALK. Yet only 443 of those 13,200 intersections—less than 4%—have APS that convey this information to blind people. Blind and low vision pedestrians are put in danger every time they must cross a street without APS, because they may cross against the light, in the path of cars.
Additionally, the lack of APS denies them their independence and dignity. Plaintiffs have been grabbed by well-meaning strangers attempting to help them across the street, and forced to cross only in crowds and wait several lights—sometimes as long as twenty minutes—to make sure they are crossing with others. Some have avoided walking altogether by taking buses and getting out a stop early or a stop late in order to avoid particularly unsafe intersections, or taking longer routes.
Over 210,000 residents of NYC have visual disabilities, and tens of thousands more visit or commute into the City annually. New York’s high population density, high vehicle density, complex and unpredictable street intersections, and high background noise levels make walking extremely dangerous for those who primarily perceive traffic safety by ear. Competing sources of noise in New York City are neverending: Construction projects, building ventilation systems, garbage collection, subway and commuter trains entering and leaving stations, and the noise of other people and vehicles on the street. Meanwhile, bicycles and hybrid cars are practically silent but no less dangerous to blind pedestrians.
Now that the Court has determined the City has violated the ADA by failing to provide blind pedestrians sufficient access to APS, DRA and its partners hope to work with the City, and the Court, if necessary, on a remedial plan that ensures the City meets its obligations to blind pedestrians by providing APS throughout the City.