|“Must city sidewalks comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines?”
”Joan and several other individuals with mobility and vision disabilities complained to the city about the poor maintenance of city sidewalks and lack
of curb ramps for wheelchairs. But the city ignored their complaints.
Without other effective alternatives, they brought this class-action lawsuit against the city to force compliance with the federal Americans with
Disabilities Act (ADA).
The plaintiffs alleged the city failed to install curb ramps in newly constructed sidewalks and failed to maintain its public sidewalks by removing
hazards, such as benches, uneven surfaces, utility poles and other obstructions for the visually impaired.
But the city attorney replied the city is exempt as a government agency from ADA compliance. The plaintiffs then argued Title II of the ADA says no
disabled person shall be excluded from participation in the services, programs or activities of a public entity or be subjected to discrimination by such
If you were the judge, would you rule the city must comply with ADA guidelines because its public sidewalks are a service, program or activity
requiring such compliance?
The judge said YES!
Public city sidewalks are obviously a service, program or activity paid for by taxpayer dollars, the judge began. The U.S. Department of Justice, which
issues ADA guidelines, he continued, has stated public sidewalks are subject to its accessibility regulations.
Realizing the city cannot afford to immediately bring all its public sidewalks into ADA compliance, such as by installing wheelchair curb ramps at
every corner, implementation must be in a reasonable manner, the judge explained.
However, when there is new sidewalk construction, the city must assure there are curb ramps and no obstructions for the visually impaired, the judge
emphasized. In addition, the city must develop a transition plan for making structural changes to existing public facilities to make its sidewalks fully
accessible, he ruled.
The city government is a public entity subject to ADA guidelines, and city sidewalks are a normal function of a municipal entity, the judge noted.
Therefore, the city must bring its public sidewalks into conformity with ADA guidelines, the judge concluded.
Based on the 2002 U.S. Court of Appeals decision in Barden vs. City of Sacramento, 292 Fed.3d 1073. “
This story appeared on Page T24 of The Standard-Times on December 21, 2002.