In an opinion Wednesday, Judge Engelmayer largely granted the plaintiffs summary judgment in a case challenging New York City’s failure to make signalized intersections accessible to the blind. Only a small percentage of intersections have Accessible Pedestrian Signals, which “are devices that communicate ‘walk’ and ‘don’t walk signals to pedestrians in a non-visual format, through audible tones, speech messages, and/or vibrating surfaces.” This makes crossing the street in New York “harrowing” and “dangerous” for those who are blind or visually impaired:
[A]t more than 95% of the City’s signalized intersections, the blind and visually impaired are unable to use the visual crossing signals that guide sighted pedestrians safely through those crossings.
. . .
[T]he City’s density also makes those walkways, and particularly the streets and avenues that separate them, unusually challenging for the blind and visually impaired to navigate. Among these unique or heightened challenges are that New York City is one of the loudest cities in the country, limiting the availability of audible cues on which blind pedestrians can otherwise rely . . . .
The evidence adduced in the summary judgment record documents the toll that these challenges work on those unable to see. Plaintiffs attest to the harrowing, dangerous, and life threatening experiences that blind and low-vision pedestrians frequently experience. The parties have stipulated that, absent auxiliary aids, a blind New Yorker seeking to avail herself of the City’s street crossings must risk being hit by cars and bicycles and becoming stranded in the middle of intersections.
Judge Engelmayer described the City’s arguments in response as “minimal and anemic,” and quoted at length exchanges during oral argument where the City’s attorney had no good answers:
And on the question whether the City presently affords the blind meaningful access to its signalized intersections, the City, revealingly, all but admitted at argument that the answer is “no.” See, e.g., Arg. Tr. at 43–44 (The Court: “Three times I’ve asked you [whether the City has achieved meaningful access]. Each time I’ve gotten a non-answer. If I get a non-answer again, I’m going to take it as the City conceding that there is, as of the status quo, the snapshot of today, a lack of meaningful access. Last chance to answer that question.” The City: “I don’t know that there is a cohesive answer. . . . The current state of affairs I do not believe rises to that, but there, there may be people that disagree with me.”); id. at 44 (The Court: Is the City “admitting that there is a lack of meaningful access in some parts of the City?” The City: “That, that is probably accurate, yes.”).