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Californians for Disability Rights v. California Dept. of Transportation

Settlement of Lawsuits Brought by People with Disabilities Helps Ensure Safe and Usable Public Walkways

Curb ramps at intersections with sidewalks have long been required as a condition of receiving federal financing for roadways. Additionally, both the federal Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) require public entities, including states, to provide people with disabilities access to public services, programs and activities, including sidewalks. Previous court decisions (in which AARP filed "friend of the court" briefs) make it clear that these disability discrimination laws compel public agencies to maintain usable and impediment-free sidewalks where they are provided to the general public.

The lawsuits alleged that Caltrans violates federal and state law in several significant respects: by failing to conduct a legally mandated assessment and evaluation of pedestrian rights of way; by limiting the funding for accessibility upgrades under the state budget; by categorically excluding sidewalk improvements when they resurface roadways; by causing wheelchair users to be trapped in the crosswalk because of pavement defects that prevent them entering the sidewalk; by installing sidewalks that are too narrow or have barriers (such as light poles) or that lack curb ramps, have slopes so steep that wheelchair users tip over, or lack detectible warnings; by installing "park and ride" facilities inaccessible to people with disabilities; and by failing to provide accessible alternative routes during construction projects.

The Settlement

AARP Foundation Litigation attorneys, along with attorneys from Disability Rights Advocates and Skadden, Arps, Meagher & Flom LLP, represented the plaintiffs over the last four years. After three days of trial in 2009, the court postponed the proceedings to permit settlement discussions.

Under the settlement now approved by the court, Caltrans will commit $1.1 billion over the next 30 years from dedicated federal and state transportation funding to be used solely to remove access barriers along sidewalks and Park and Ride facilities. Priority will be given to remove barriers that are subject to complaints from members of the public.

In addition, when Caltrans resurfaces its roadways, it will install or upgrade curb ramps, and will follow federal and state accessibility guidelines when undertaking new construction. If Caltrans provides a temporary route around a construction zone, it will ensure the temporary route is useable by people with disabilities.

Laura Williams, president of Californians for Disability Rights Inc., said this settlement not only helps millions of Californians, but it will also "serve as a model for other public entities across the state and the nation."

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