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

April 7, 2023
The plaintiff's focus is to ensure that Chicago's intersections become accessible for blind and low vision pedestrians

A federal court's decision plans to recreate Chicago's infrastructure for blind pedestrians. Chicago has failed to incorporate accessible pedestrian signals (APS) at intersections, which the court ruled was discrimination toward blind and low vision pedestrians under federal disability rights laws.

Chicago now has to 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.

Chicago has less than 1% of APS throughout the over 2,800 intersections. Due to the lack of APS, blind and low vision pedestrians are put in danger when using these intersections. Having APS installed at these intersections means that pedestrians who have resorted to taking longer routes to avoid these unsafe intersections  will finally be able to walk the streets of Chicago.

“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.”

A class action lawsuit was filed in September 2019 by Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) and Proskauer Rose LLP on behalf of American Council of the Blind of Metropolitan Chicago along with three individual plaintiffs with vision-related disabilities, challenging Chicago’s discriminatory practices that disregard blind and low vision safety needs during pedestrian planning. The Department of Justice joined the suit 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.

“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.”

Plaintiffs are not seeking money damages. Their only focus is to ensure that Chicago's intersections become accessible for blind and low vision pedestrians.

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Source: DRA Legal