A federal judge in Chicago held the City of Chicago liable for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act by failing to provide accessible pedestrian signals at signalized intersections throughout the city to those who are blind or have low vision.
In April of 2021, the Justice Department moved to intervene in a disability discrimination lawsuit that people with visual disabilities brought against the City under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. The United States’ complaint in intervention alleged that the city fails to provide people who are blind, have low vision or are deaf-blind with equal access to pedestrian signal information at intersections. Pedestrian signal information, such as a flashing “Walk/Don’t Walk” signal, indicates when it is safe to cross the street for sighted pedestrians.
Accessible pedestrian signals (APSs) are devices that provide pedestrians with safe-crossing information in a non-visual format, such as through audible tones, speech messages and vibrotactile surfaces. Since at least 2006, Chicago has recognized the need to install APSs for pedestrians with visual disabilities, specifically identifying the need for such installation in multiple city documents. Yet, while Chicago currently provides sighted pedestrians visual crossing signals at nearly 2,800 intersections, the United States’ suit alleged that — at the time it intervened — fewer than one percent of those were equipped with APSs for people who are blind or have low vision.
On March 31, U.S. District Judge Elaine E. Bucklo sided with the United States and the private plaintiffs in a decision on both sides’ motions for summary judgment, holding the city in violation of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The court found that the city had provided APS at only a “miniscule portion of the whole,” and thus had failed “to provide ‘meaningful access’ to its network of existing facilities and to ensure that newly constructed signals are designed and constructed in such a manner as to be ‘readily accessible’ by blind individuals.” The case is being handled for the U.S. Attorney’s Office by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Patrick Johnson and Sarah J. North as well as by the Civil Rights Division.
“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.”
“As previously stated, the U.S. Attorney’s Office took action in this case in order to ensure that Chicagoans with disabilities are provided equal access to city services, particularly services where the primary focus is on public safety,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Pasqual for the Northern District of Illinois. “Our office remains committed to standing up for the rights of all those who reside in and visit the City of Chicago and all other communities across the Northern District of Illinois. We look forward to working with the City of Chicago to identify an appropriate remedy for the future.”
For more information on the Civil Rights Division, please visit www.justice.gov/crt. For more information on the ADA, please call the department’s toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (TDD 800-514-0383) or visit www.ada.gov. Members of the public may report possible civil rights violations at https://civilrights.justice.gov/report.