Vision-Impaired Transit Riders Lose ADA Claims

     (CN) – The 9th Circuit dismissed the claim that the Bay Area Rapid Transit violated disability law by not making its steps and handrails more accessible to vision-impaired riders.

     A three-judge panel in San Francisco overturned a federal judge’s ruling that BART violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by not offering accessible handrails or color-contrast striping on stairs.
     U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken conceded that, despite complaints from vision-impaired riders, BART was in compliance with the Department of Transportation’s regulations. However, she found those regulations “both arbitrary and capricious and plainly contrary” to the ADA.
     She awarded the plaintiffs, two sight-impaired BART riders, $35,000 in compensatory damages, plus legal costs and attorney fees. She also ordered BART to take specific steps to improve accessibility for riders with poor vision.
     BART appealed, and the 9th Circuit remanded the case to allow the United States to intervene. On remand, Judge Wilken again rejected the DOT’s regulations.
     The 9th Circuit disagreed with Wilken’s view of the DOT’s regulatory scheme.
     “DOT did address the needs of those with disabilities, although perhaps not to the level the transit riders would have preferred,” Judge O’Scannlain wrote.
     “It may well be sensible to require accessible handrails, contrast striping on stairs, and other such measures to promote accessibility,” the judge noted. “However, it is not up to this court to decide what is reasonable or sensible in this regard; instead, our task is to ascertain BART’s legal obligations. Unless DOT regulations are arbitrary and capricious, BART is required to do no more than follow them.”
     Because the regulations were neither arbitrary nor capricious, the panel concluded, it dismissed all ADA claims and remanded the rest.

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