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DOJ Moves To Intervene In Lawsuit Against City Of Chicago Claiming Crosswalk Signals Are Not Accessible For The Visually Impaired

CHICAGO (CBS) - The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday moved to intervene in a disability discrimination lawsuit against the City of Chicago, over the failure to install accessible pedestrian signals at crosswalks that can be heard or felt by those who can't see walk lights.

The DOJ's proposed complaint claims the city fails to provide those who are blind, have low vision, or are deaf-blind with equal access to pedestrian information such as walk lights that indicate when it is safe to cross the street.

Accessible pedestrian signals are devices that provide pedestrians with safe crossing information in non-visual formats such as audible tones, spoken recorded messages, and vibrating surfaces that work in conjunction with walk/don't walk signals.

The DOJ noted that the City of Chicago has recognized the need to install such signals since at least 2006, but only has installed them at 15 intersections. There are 2,700 intersections with walk lights, the DOJ said.

The proposed lawsuit claims the lack of accessible pedestrian signals at more than 99 percent of the city's signalized intersections subjects those who are blind or visually impaired to added risks and burdens not experienced by the sighted – including fear of injury or death.

"The U.S. Attorney's Office is taking this action to ensure that Chicagoans with disabilities are provided equal access to city services, particularly those services whose purpose is public safety," U.S. Attorney John R. Lausch, Jr. said in a news release. "We are concerned about the serious lack of accessibility to safe intersection crossings for Chicagoans who are blind, have low vision, or are deaf-blind, and we are confident that our involvement in this important case will ultimately bring a meaningful resolution to the city and its millions of residents, daily commuters, and visitors."

"The ADA and Section 504 require that individuals with disabilities have equal access to public services, including access to pedestrian crossing information that is critical for safety and for full participation in community life," Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela S. Karlan of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division said in the release. "Chicago has determined that safe-crossing information is necessary for sighted pedestrians to navigate throughout the city, and this suit seeks to ensure that the city provides the same benefit to people with visual disabilities."

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