On Wednesday, the US Department of Justice declared that Chicago has breached the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) due to its failure to provide special crossing signals for pedestrians who are blind or have vision impairments.
Accessible pedestrian signals are designed to offer safe-crossing information to pedestrians through non-visual means, such as vibrating surfaces, speech messages, and audible tones.
This decision was prompted by a disability discrimination lawsuit that was filed in late 2019 by the American Council of the Blind of Metropolitan Chicago and three individuals with visual disabilities. The suit claimed that the city violated the civil rights of disabled pedestrians at both the state and federal levels by neglecting to take the safety of blind people into consideration when designing walkways and signals.
The DOJ revealed that Chicago had been aware of this deficiency since 2006. When the department intervened in 2021, only 1% of the 2,800 intersections were equipped with signals for sighted people, a total of 15 intersections. There has been minimal progress since then, according to federal officials.
On March 31, U.S. District Judge Elaine E. Bucklo ruled in favor of both the government and the private plaintiffs, holding the city in violation of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The court concluded that the city had only provided accessible pedestrian signals at a tiny fraction of the total number of intersections.
Judge Bucklo also determined that Chicago had neglected to provide meaningful access to its existing network of facilities, and that newly constructed signals were not designed and constructed to be readily accessible by blind individuals.
“Federal law offers people with visual disabilities the promise of full participation in community life, and safely navigating city streets is a critical part of that,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “We will continue pushing for a remedy that fully addresses the discrimination faced by blind people in Chicago.”