Court Rules That Chicago’s Intersections Must Be Made Accessible for Blind Pedestrians

Court Rules That Chicago’s Intersections Must Be Made Accessible for Blind Pedestrians

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Chicago, IL—In a decision that will reshape Chicago’s pedestrian infrastructure and lead to historic accessibility improvements for all residents, a federal court has ruled that Chicago’s systemic, decades-long failure to incorporate accessible pedestrian signals (“APS”) at intersections constitutes discrimination toward blind and low vision pedestrians under federal disability rights laws. Therefore Chicago must install APS, which are push-button devices attached to crosswalks that convey visual crossing information in audible and vibro-tactile formats, when constructing or modernizing an intersection’s pedestrian signals. Read the order granting summary judgment.

Less than one half of one percent of Chicago’s 2,800+ signalized intersections provide APS for blind pedestrians. This level of access may be the worst of any major metropolitan area in the United States. As a result, blind and low vision pedestrians are put in danger of crossing against the light, in the path of cars, every time they cross a street without APS. Having APS installed at these intersections means that Plaintiffs who for years have resorted to taking circuitous routes to avoid particularly unsafe intersections, or who have avoided walking altogether, will have newfound security accessing a fundamental part of Chicago civic life: walking city streets.

Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) and Proskauer Rose LLP filed a class action lawsuit in September 2019 on behalf of American Council of the Blind of Metropolitan Chicago and three individual plaintiffs with vision-related disabilities challenging Chicago’s discriminatory practices that disregard blind and low vision safety needs during pedestrian planning. The federal Department of Justice joined the suit shortly after it was filed following its own investigation into the city’s APS-related policies and practices. In March 2022, the Court certified a class of all blind and low vision pedestrians who use Chicago’s signalized pedestrian intersections.

“We are thrilled the court recognized that blind pedestrians have the right to cross streets with the benefit of the same critical public safety information as sighted pedestrians,” said Jelena Kolic, Senior Staff Attorney at Disability Rights Advocates. “Chicago has long been famous for its walkability. Thanks to this decision, blind residents will be much better equipped to enjoy that walkability.”

“ACBMC has long advocated for greater APS installation as our members have struggled to move about the city without knowing when it’s safe to cross streets,” said plaintiff Deborah Watson of the American Council of the Blind Metropolitan Chicago. “We are truly excited that our years-long goal – to see signalized intersections become accessible to our members – is going to be achieved.”

“This is absolutely wonderful news! It will not only help those who are blind and traveling around the city now, but it will improve the safety of  blind people for generations to come,” said plaintiff Ann Brash.

“This decision sends a message to cities and towns across the state and around the country that they can no longer deny pedestrians who are blind full and equal access to signalized intersections,” said plaintiff Ray Campbell.

“With accessible pedestrian signals, us blind and visually impaired people will be able to cross streets much more safely, with less stress, and with more independence,” said plaintiff Maureen Heneghan.

Plaintiffs do not seek money damages. Their only focus is to ensure that the City’s signalized intersections become accessible for blind and low vision pedestrians.

Disability Rights Advocates: With offices in New York, California, and Chicago, 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.

Proskauer Rose LLP: We are 725+ lawyers serving clients from 13 offices globally. Proskauer’s roots in New York City go back to 1875, when the Firm was founded.  Today, the world’s leading organizations choose Proskauer as a strategic partner to drive their business forward.  We work with asset managers, major sports leagues, Fortune 500 companies, entertainment industry legends and other industry-redefining companies. We are entrepreneurial, inclusive, and committed to making a difference for good. For more information, visit proskauer.com.

The American Council of the Blind of Metropolitan Chicago (ABCMC): The American Council of the Blind of Metropolitan Chicago is a nonprofit organization seeking to promote the independence and dignity of persons with visual impairments.  A local chapter of the Illinois state affiliate of the American Council of the Blind, the American Council of the Blind of Metropolitan Chicago is one of Chicago’s leading consumer organizations of and for people who are blind or low-vision.

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