Court Rules Sacramento Airport Must be Made Safer and More Accessible for Travelers with Disabilities

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BERKELEY, CA – November 5, 2015 – Federal Judge Kimberly Mueller issued an order yesterday, November 4, 2015, holding that the newly constructed gate counters in Terminal B of the Sacramento International Airport are inaccessible to persons who use wheelchairs and thus, illegal, and further holding that the emergency evacuation plans for Sacramento International Airport for persons with mobility disabilities are inadequate and similarly in violation of the law.

The gate counters, which were constructed between 2008 and 2011 as a part of the newly-built Terminal B, have two surfaces: an upper surface and a lower surface which juts out horizontally from the counter’s vertical face.  The County maintained that the lower surface is intended for use by wheelchair users or alternatively a customer service agent could come around the side of the counter to assist passengers in wheelchairs.  The Court found that the lower counter’s shallow depth and placement on the front wall do not allow passengers in wheelchairs to interact with gate agents, read documents, write notes, pass them back and forth, and hold on to personal belongs as a standing passenger would.  Additionally, if a person in a wheelchair uses the lowered surface as intended, the counter’s configuration would prevent gate agents from seeing and interacting with wheelchair users as they would with an able-bodied person.  The Court also found that if having a gate agent walk around the side of the counter to assist passengers in wheelchairs was legal then almost any counter arrangement “could pass muster,” which is not what the law intended.

In applying emergency planning obligations for the first time ever to airports, the Court further found that the evacuation plans for persons with mobility disabilities were inadequate.  Though the Court noted that the County’s plans to evacuate persons with mobility disabilities down stairs and across pedestrian bridges were somewhat adequate, the Court unequivocally held that in all other respects evacuation planning was deficient and did not comply with legal obligations.  For example, evacuation communication and recovery efforts were completely unaddressed.

Plaintiffs will next meet with the County to craft a remedial plan for the gate counters and the emergency evacuation plans.