Washington

Baltimore residents with disabilities sue city over lack of ramps, sidewalks

People with mobile disabilities have filed a class-action lawsuit against the city of Baltimore, arguing that officials have failed to properly install curb ramps and sidewalks for people in wheelchairs.

The group of plaintiffs includes three people using wheelchairs and the IMAGE Center of Maryland, an independent living facility for people with disabilities. They are asking the court to declare Baltimore in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“The City of Baltimore’s curb ramps, sidewalks, and pedestrian right-of-way are dilapidated, disintegrating, and filled with objects such as telephone poles, trash, and trees, making everyday travel difficult and dangerous for the thousands of people with mobility disabilities who call Baltimore home or visit for work or pleasure,” reads the 23-page lawsuit filed this month in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.

A spokesperson from the city of Baltimore did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit.

One of the plaintiffs, Susan Goodlaxson, does not have any curb ramps where she lives.

“I manage life quite well in my wheelchair, but all too often I hit a curb and can’t do things I love — like volunteering in my community or joining my grandson for a snowball,” said Ms. Goodlaxson.

The lawsuit claims that under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed roughly three decades ago, a pedestrian right of way must be accessible for people with disabilities and any sidewalk built or altered since the law was passed must comply with the ADA.

Baltimore has failed and is continuing to fail to comply with these requirements,” the lawsuit reads.

The complaint details two studies to support the plaintiffs’ claims: A 2019 study showed that only 1.3% of the curb ramps in the city complied with ADA standards set in 2010. Another study, which was conducted in 2016, said that “64% of the 64 miles of sidewalk and 93% of the 2,938 curb ramps surveyed did not comply with the 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act Standards.”

“It has been more than 30 years since the passage of the ADA. Baltimore should have established procedures to make its pedestrian rights of way accessible to people with mobility disabilities long before now. We expect that this lawsuit will compel Baltimore to make the necessary changes to ensure that people with disabilities can safely use sidewalks and curb ramps,” said Rebecca Rodgers, a senior attorney for Disability Rights Advocates, which is helping to represent the plaintiffs.

Ms. Rodgers told The Washington Times that the lawsuit isn’t asking for monetary damages and that the city adding curb ramps to sidewalks would benefit everyone — including those with strollers and suitcases.

She also said Baltimore has been out of compliance with the ADA for decades and as streets are repaved, installing curb ramps has been ignored.

“The problem isn’t new but it has gotten worse over time as time has passed,” Ms. Rodgers said.

Elizabeth Pendo, a law professor at Saint Louis University, said these lawsuits are becoming increasingly common as cities are building and awareness of disability rights is increasing. She said many result in settlements.

“Just in recent years, they have been filed in cities and towns in California, and New York and Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Atlanta,” Ms. Pendo said. “In many situations, agreements you can get in the context of a settlement go beyond what a judge could order under the ADA.”

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