For People With Disabilities, Navigating Can Be Difficult In Wintertime

Feb 4, 2019

Northeast winters can range from mild to brutal, but no matter what the weather, wear and tear on sidewalks and snowbanks at intersections can present challenges for people with disablilities.

Whether traveling by wheelchair, walking with a cane or using a guide dog, winter can make a familiar commute difficult.

Blaise Bryant is an advocate for people with disabilities.   "Navigating the Capital District is very, very, very tough. In part because there's not a lot of room. This is an old area. And oftentimes ice and snow get dumped into curb cuts. This not only impacts myself as a person who is blind that uses a seeing-eye dog, it impacts people who use white canes, it impacts wheelchair uses and people who use othe mobility aides to get from point A to point B because some of these mounds are so unbelievably huge and they are right in the crosswalks, which, by the way that is a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act and is part of the reason why curb cuts were installed in the first place."

Disability Rights New York filed a lawsuit in January in U.S. District Court on behalf of two residents against the City of Troy. Cheryl Seaton and Mosses Lugo are suing the city for failing to maintain accessible sidewalks, curb cuts and pedestrian crossings in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Sim Goldman is Supervising Attorney at Disability Rights New York.   "Troy, like a lot of older cities, has infrastructures, streets and sidewalks that are not accessible to people with disabilities. Cobblestones, lack of curb ramps, heaved pavers on the sidewalks, all make it an obstacle course for folks who have mobility impairments of many kinds, including using wheelchairs, people who are blind, use canes and walkers. It prevents them from enjoying the benefits of downtown and other parts of Troy that others take for granted. It puts them in danger by requiring them to walk or wheel in the road, often in busy streets because they cannot access the sidewalks."

The suit points to snow and ice buildup on sidewalks coupled with broken sections of sidewalk in summer and certain intersections lacking curb cuts, saying both Seaton and Lugo suffered injuries and broken wheelchairs.

Cities like Troy and Albany ask property owners to keep sidewalks clear or they may be fined. Owners whose properties are on corners are also responsible for seeing to it that pedestrians don't have to jump over snowbanks to cross streets. But that doesn’t always happen. Bryant deals with obstacles on a daily basis.   "People need to shovel their sidewalks. And if they're not able to shovel their sidewalks this is where we need to come together as a community.  We quite frankly need do a better job of getting together."

The suit says that "traveling in their power wheelchairs in the streets causes Plaintiffs to become exposed to vehicular traffic and experience greater risk of injury than pedestrians who are able to access the sidewalks.

-and-

Plaintiffs cannot safely access areas of the City of Troy, including the core downtown area, because of inaccessible sidewalks and crosswalks.

Goldman says Lugo was thrown from his chair when it hit a pothole while crossing the crosswalk near Federal Street in Troy. The pothole snapped the right front wheel off of his power wheelchair.  Seaton had her footrest and battery damaged when her wheelchair hit a large gap between the sidewalk and the road. The suit claims the damage was so severe that the wheelchair became inoperable and she was forced to call someone to assist her.

Troy Mayor Patrick Madden
Credit Lucas Willard / WAMC

Mayor Patrick Madden replied to a request for comment by email, saying:  "Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, no city administration has been more committed to improving accessibility for Troy residents of all ages and abilities. We have made meaningful progress with the assistance of local disability advocates and organizations and remain fully committed to this important effort.”

Goldman says Troy needs to show good will and come to an agreement with a clear time to fix what he calls "a myriad of problems."      "We know its not going to happen tomorrow, or in 60 days, but we do need it a plan. It could be over a period of a couple of years to address these issues."

Lugo v Troy on Scribd