The non-profit American Council of the Blind of Metropolitan Chicago and three plaintiffs have filed a proposed class action against the city, its Department of Transportation, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, and acting DOT Commissioner Thomas Carney over Chicago’s apparent failure to equip intersections with accessible pedestrian signals.
Alleging that the defendants have systematically discriminated against blind residents and visitors, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuit out of Illinois district court explains that accessible pedestrian signals (APS) convey traffic and warning information by making continuous sounds and vibrating a button on a signal post. Blind pedestrians listen for sounds made by an APS to interpret the same information sighted pedestrians obtain by looking at pedestrian signals, per the case.
As the plaintiffs tell it, however, Chicago regularly installs and upgrades its pedestrian traffic signals without including an APS device, denying blind pedestrians access to information meant to improve safety. According to the case, “abysmally few” of Chicago’s signaled intersections, such as the intersection immediately between the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind and the Illinois State Center for Rehabilitation and Education, have APS signals usable by blind pedestrians. From the lawsuit:
“Out of about 2,672 signalized traffic intersections in Chicago, only 11—less than half of one percent—offer signals that convey any information at all to people with vision-related disabilities. Such systemic failure dangerously diminishes blind pedestrians’ ability to navigate street crossings safely and independently."
Blind pedestrians in Chicago must resort to a number of “demeaning and potentially unsafe” workarounds in order to navigate the city’s busy and noisy intersections, the lawsuit says. Some blind pedestrians must seek assistance from strangers or attempt to follow sighted pedestrians “who may cross against lights,” the case states. Others, the suit continues, “must wait alone at an intersection for several cycles” until another pedestrian can help them cross. The lawsuit stresses that it can be “frightening and humiliating” for a blind pedestrian to be grabbed or shouted at in the event they accidentally attempt to cross a street against a light.
The difficulties faced by blind Chicago pedestrians are often the reason why some attempt to sidestep difficult intersections altogether by taking “indirect, longer routes” or paratransit, which must be arranged 24 hours in advance, the complaint adds. Collectively, according to the complaint, the obstacles not remedied by the defendants, saying nothing of Chicago’s reportedly high vehicle density, have severely compromised blind pedestrians’ ability to navigate the city “safely, independently, expeditiously, and without fear.” More from the complaint:
“High levels of background noise— such as construction, garbage collection, street music, or passing subways on elevated tracks— make safe and independent navigation of street crossings that much more challenging for blind pedestrians who, in the absence of accessible pedestrian signaling, often must rely on the ear alone to know when to cross streets.
Collectively, these obstacles severely compromise blind pedestrians’ ability to move about the City like their sighted counterparts do: Safely, independently, expeditiously, and without fear. The exclusion of APSs from Chicago’s pedestrian signal program is thus severely harmful to Plaintiffs and members of the class.”
The plaintiffs look to certify a class of all individuals with vision-related disabilities who use or seek to use pedestrian signals in Chicago. The plaintiffs seek only injunctive and declaratory relief.