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San Juan sidewalks to become disability-friendly under U.S. Justice Dept. order

The U.S. Department of Justice recently filed a proposed stipulated order that will require the municipality of San Juan to take critical steps toward making its public sidewalk system accessible to individuals with disabilities. 

The proposed order was filed jointly with the municipality of San Juan and private plaintiffs and pauses the department’s lawsuit against the municipality while requiring it to conduct a comprehensive assessment of sidewalk accessibility and to begin fixing accessibility barriers. 

The lawsuit alleges that the municipality of San Juan violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act by failing to provide people with disabilities equal access to the municipality’s sidewalks, curb ramps, crosswalks and other pedestrian facilities.

As News is my Business reported last September, the Justice Department intervened in a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by individuals with mobility disabilities against the municipality of San Juan under the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The Broad Coalition for Functional Diversity for Equality (CADFI, in Spanish), a nonprofit advocating for the social equality of people with functional diversity, filed the lawsuit against LUMA Energy, the municipality of San Juan and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority in late July, as News is my Business reported.

The department’s complaint alleges that San Juan fails to provide people with mobility disabilities equal access to the city’s public sidewalk system. The federal agency alleges widespread accessibility issues with San Juan’s sidewalks, including curb ramps that are cracked, too steep or non-existent, and walkways that are uneven, too narrow, or obstructed by bollards, utility poles or other obstacles.

“City sidewalks must be accessible so that people with disabilities can equally participate in community life and enjoy the many benefits that come from being able to safely navigate city streets and sidewalks,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement issued late last week. “This stipulated order puts San Juan on the path to making its public sidewalks accessible and we will continue working with San Juan to ensure it follows that path to its conclusion and achieves full program access.”

Under the proposed order, which requires court approval, San Juan will hire an outside accessibility consultant to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the municipality’s public sidewalk system to identify barriers to people with mobility disabilities. 

San Juan will also create a process for individuals to report barriers and to request the installation or repair of curb ramps or sidewalks. The information gathered through the assessment and barrier reporting process will provide the basis for the parties to negotiate a final resolution of the lawsuit.

“We are heartened by San Juan’s willingness to commit significant resources to start addressing the accessibility of its public sidewalk system,” said U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow for the District of Puerto Rico. “The municipality’s investment and ongoing efforts will benefit all of its citizens and will help ensure that people with disabilities who live in or visit San Juan can enjoy all that the city has to offer.”

In addition, the municipality will provide training on the ADA Accessibility Standards to municipal employees who supervise construction, repair or labor in maintenance work related to the public sidewalk system. 

The municipality will retain independent licensed architects and engineers to verify that any construction or alterations related to the public sidewalk system comply with the ADA Accessibility Standards. 

Whenever the municipality repaves or resurfaces roads, it will provide curb ramps at any intersection with a sidewalk.  San Juan will also post its ADA Notice, ADA Grievance Procedure, and ADA coordinator contact information in an accessible format on the municipality’s website.

The matter is being handled by the Justice Department Civil Rights Division’s Disability Rights Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico. The proposed order can be accessed here.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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