SAN FRANCISCO – A pair of advocacy groups and two people with disabilities filed a lawsuit today against BART alleging that it discriminates against people with mobility disabilities, effectively excluding them from the regional mass transit system.
For people with disabilities, problems that may be familiar annoyances to most riders can create absolute barriers to access. Problems cited in the lawsuit include elevators that are broken, out of service, or so soiled they are unusable, as well as non-functioning escalators and fare gates.
The class action lawsuit was filed by Disability Rights Advocates and Legal Aid at Work, both legal nonprofits, in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on behalf of Senior and Disability Action; the Independent Living Resource Center of San Francisco; and Ian Smith and Pi Ra, two people with disabilities.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to stop BART from discriminating against people with mobility disabilities and to adopt a plan to remove barriers. The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief only and no monetary damages.
“We constantly have to cancel or reschedule meetings because the BART elevators that our staff members and clients rely on are out of service,” says Jessie Lorenz, executive director of the Independent Living Resource Center in San Francisco. “When elevators are out, many people with mobility disabilities cannot use BART at all so they’re either stuck or they have to figure out some other way of getting from place to place.”
“I encounter human waste in BART elevators several times a week — so frequently that it has become a predictable part of my commute,” says Smith, a BART rider who uses a wheelchair. “My hope is that this lawsuit will finally get BART to address the needs of the disability community.”
Jessica Lehman, executive director of Senior and Disability Action, says many people with disabilities find it so frustrating and difficult to navigate BART’s elevator and escalator outages and other access barriers that they just stay home. “This is exactly the sort of isolation that the Americans with Disabilities Act and other access laws aim to prevent,” says Lehman.
DRA attorney Rebecca Williford says BART is failing to serve a significant segment of its ridership. “Instead of ensuring that riders with disabilities have an experience that is equal to those of their nondisabled peers, BART is perpetuating a discriminatory transportation system, right here in the birthplace of the disability rights movement.”
Jinny Kim, senior attorney with Legal Aid at Work, says, “We hope this lawsuit will drastically improve mass transit for people with disabilities and raise awareness about the duty that public transportation systems have to provide full and equal access under the law.”
A copy of the complaint is linked below.
About Disability Rights Advocates
Founded in 1993, Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) is the leading national nonprofit disability rights legal center. Its mission is to advance equal rights and opportunity for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. DRA represents people with the full spectrum of disabilities in complex, system-changing, class action cases. Thanks to DRA’s precedent-setting work, people with disabilities across the country have dramatically improved access to health care, employment, transportation, education, disaster preparedness planning, voting and housing. For more information, visit www.dralegal.org.