Class Action Lawsuit Alleges NYC Sidewalks Won’t Be Safe For Blind Pedestrians For 170 Years

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A pedestrian signal showing the white walking figure

Photograph by Sarah WalkingtonCC BY-NC-ND 2.0

New York City, NY – June 27, 2018 – Disability Rights Advocates (“DRA”), on behalf of the American Council of the Blind of New York (“ACBNY”) and two individual plaintiffs, filed a landmark class action lawsuit today 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. The complaint is available at the bottom of this page.

New York City has 13,000 intersections with pedestrian signals for people who can see, but only 317 intersections—2.4%—have accessible pedestrian signals (“APSs”) usable by the City’s 200,000 residents with vision disabilities.  APS technology conveys street crossing information to persons of low vision through noises and/or vibrations from pedestrian signal poles.

New York City has replaced all of its pedestrian signals at least once since 2000, including installing countdown clocks in at least 7,500 intersections since 2006.  Yet currently the City is installing APSs in only 75 intersections per year.  At that rate, it would take about 170 years—until around 2188—to replace all of the City’s pedestrian signals with APSs.

Accessible pedestrian signals are more necessary in New York than any other American city. Visitors and residents walk not merely for recreation, but also as a major form of transport.  New York’s high population density, high vehicle density, complex and unpredictable street intersections, and loud background noise levels make walking extremely dangerous for those who primarily perceive traffic safety by ear.

“Cities like San Antonio, Seattle, and Los Angeles have already committed to using accessible pedestrian signals whenever they install new signals or replace old ones.  Installing APS at only 0.59% of its intersections per year is monumentally neglectful of New York,” said Christina Brandt-Young, a Senior Staff Attorney at Disability Rights Advocates.

Lori Scharff, President of Plaintiff American Council of the Blind, New York, Inc., explained that “pedestrian safety is an urgent issue for blind and deaf-blind pedestrians, not only for physical health but for independence, and right now New York City is not our friend.  It’s time for New York to step up and do its job.”

Plaintiff Michael Golfo commutes into New York City every day for work.  “There’s no substitute for walking in New York, but my service dog and I constantly have to worry about being hit by cars trying to cross streets without APSs.  New York needs to do better.”

Plaintiff Christina Curry, Executive Director of the Harlem Independent Living Center, identifies as a person who is Deaf and who has vision loss, and said that “because the City won’t provide APSs, I have to strategize around crossing the street.  I wait for other pedestrians to show up so I can cross in packs of people.  If there’s a subway station, I walk downstairs and underground through it to avoid the street traffic.  I get out of buses a stop early or a stop late and walk farther to avoid intersections I can’t use.  I pay for taxis and car services even though it costs more money than walking.  The City has been so careful to plan for sighted people to be safe crossing the streets, but they have ignored people like me.”

Plaintiffs do not seek money damages.  Their goal is to ensure that, with a comprehensive system of APSs, the city’s sidewalks will be safer for pedestrians who are blind, deaf-blind, and low-vision.

About Disability Rights Advocates (DRA)

Disability Rights Advocates is one of the leading nonprofit disability rights legal centers in the nation.  With offices in Berkeley, California and New York City, DRA’s mission is to advance equal rights for people with all types of disabilities nationwide.  DRA’s work in New York City has resulted in making half of the City’s yellow taxi fleet accessible to wheelchair users, a federal court order requiring the City to make its voting sites accessible, and a victory at trial in a class-action lawsuit challenging New York City’s failure to plan for the needs of persons with disabilities in disasters such as Hurricane Sandy.  More information can be found at www.dralegal.org.

About the American Council of the Blind of New York, Inc. (ABCNY)

The American Council of the Blind of New York, Inc. is a nonprofit organization seeking to promote the independence and dignity of persons with visual impairments. A state affiliate of the American Council of the Blind, the American Council of the Blind of New York is the New York’s largest consumer organization of and for people who are blind or low-vision. For more information, please see http://www.acbny.info/

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