Federal Court Rules NYC Discriminates Against Blind and Low Vision Pedestrians by Failing to Make Crosswalk Signals Accessible

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Yellow accessible pedestrian signal on a pole on a sidewalk
Yellow accessible pedestrian signal on a pole on a sidewalk, via Wikimedia

 

Court Decision will Dramatically Remake NYC’s Streetscape by Making Pedestrian Safety Accessible to People with Disabilities

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New York, NY – 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 today that New York City’s failure  to provide accessible pedestrian signals (APS) at 96.6 % of its signalized intersections violates the civil rights of people with disabilities. APS are push-button devices attached to crosswalks that convey visual crossing information in audible and vibro-tactile formats accessible to blind, low vision, and Deafblind pedestrians.

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.

Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) filed this class action lawsuit, American Council of the Blind of New York, et al. v. New York City, in June 2018 because this unlawful system denies blind and low vision pedestrians their independence to navigate city streets safely: to visit friends and family; go to work, school, or home; or shop or do business. On July 22, 2019, the Court certified a class of blind and low vision pedestrians harmed by these practices.

“For decades New York City has ignored the needs of blind and low vision pedestrians, while simultaneously touting its Vision Zero commitments to pedestrian safety,” said Torie Atkinson, Staff Attorney at Disability Rights Advocates. “The city has spent millions on pedestrian safety improvements, and now for the first time those improvements will be accessible to all New Yorkers. With accessible pedestrian signals, blind and low vision pedestrians can cross the street confidently, and we are thrilled with the dramatic changes that this victory will mean not only for those who are blind or low vision, but for all New Yorkers who want safer streets.”

“ACBNY has tirelessly advocated for decades to fix New York City’s widespread inaccessibility to blind and Deafblind pedestrians,” said Lori Scharff of the American Council of the Blind of New York, plaintiff in this case. “We are pleased that the Court’s ruling will help ensure that our blind and Deafblind constituents have equal access to the same information available to sighted pedestrians.”

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

Plaintiffs do not seek money damages. They seek only that New York City’s street crossings be accessible to and safer for blind and low vision pedestrians.

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About Disability Rights Advocates: With offices in New York and California, Disability Rights Advocates is the leading nonprofit disability rights legal center in the nation. Its mission is to advance equal rights and opportunity for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. DRA represents people with all types of disabilities in complex, system-changing, class action cases. DRA is proud to have upheld the promise of the ADA since our inception. Thanks to DRA’s precedent-setting work, people with disabilities across the country have dramatically improved access to education, health care, employment, transportation, disaster preparedness planning, voting, and housing. For more information, visit dralegal.org.

Contacts

Torie Atkinson, (212) 644-8644, tatkinson@dralegal.org