Pedestrian in wheelchair could be trapped on curb cut, unable to turn around and no place to go. Photo courtesy Michigan chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America.
The Michigan chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living (AACIL) are suing the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and county and local governments over a lack of accessibility on sidewalks, bus stops, and crosswalks.
The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in late August 2015 alleges that MDOT as well as the Washtenaw County road commission and the Ypsilanti and Pittsfield townships have failed to bring sidewalks, bus stops, and crosswalks into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and in some cases, have eliminated previously accessible paths of travel.
“The Michigan chapter of Paralyzed Veterans sued Ann Arbor in 2004 and Ypsilanti in 2005 and was successful in getting them to fix sidewalks and curb ramps,” said attorney J. Mark Finnegan. “But as soon as you get outside the city limits, everything changes. It’s like the Wild West.”
The detailed complaint filed by the Michigan chapter and AACIL includes 21 photographs that illustrate some of the hundreds of problem areas in Washtenaw County that fail to comply with the ADA, including many that are dangerous to citizens with disabilities. Among examples cited include water pooling at curb cuts, large potholes or cracks in crosswalks or sidewalks, as well as curb cuts with “compound slopes” that can cause a wheelchair to tip over. View some of the photos included in the complaint at this link.
Finnegan said some areas in Washtenaw County now are going so far as eliminating curb cuts altogether. “It’s 25 years after the passage of the ADA, so you would think by now all of the sidewalks would be accessible,” Finnegan said. “But there are examples all over where they are not, and in some cases like these curb cuts, we’re actually going backwards. Many curb cuts have been replaced with solid curbs with grass planted over them.”
Michael Harris, executive director of the Michigan chapter, said another hope of the lawsuit is to force cities and towns across the state to begin creating accessible alternate routes during construction projects. “Often alternate routes are created for automobiles so people can still drive around the construction, but they don’t think about the people living there who need to navigate the area,” he said. “Our goal is to get uniformity across Michigan.”
Paralyzed Veterans of America and Finnegan have a proven track record of bringing cities into ADA compliance for sidewalks, bus stops and crosswalks, including lawsuits against Chicago and Detroit that resulted in the installation of 100,000 and 65,000 new curb ramps, respectively. “Still, when you look at the whole country, its like taking a cup of water out of the ocean,” Finnegan said.
Above all, Finnegan, the Michigan Chapter and AACIL hope all levels of government will begin to understand the importance of the ADA and role accessible streets and sidewalks serve in enabling individuals with disabilities to be full participants in society.
“When Congress passed the ADA, they said it would be meaningless if people didn’t have the ability to move around America’s streets and sidewalks,” Finnegan said. “A business makes its store or workplace accessible, and buses become wheelchair-accessible, and yet it’s all pointless because people with disabilities have no way to get to and from.”