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Plaintiffs Hope Their Lawsuit Forces the City to Make Sidewalks and Curb Ramps Wheelchair Accessible July 30, 2008

Seven people who use wheelchairs have filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Birmingham asking a judge to require the city to work toward making its sidewalks and curb ramps accessible. The suit said the city was required more than a decade ago to make structural changes in its facilities, including its sidewalks and curb ramps, but has not done so.

The suit contends the city is not complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which became law in 1990. Lawrence Cooper, city attorney, said Tuesday the law department had not been served a copy of the suit.

The plaintiffs in the suit are: David Higginbotham, Charles Ridley, Berry Perry, Colleen Macort, C.E. Milligan, Betty Hopper and Katherine Simmons, all whom use a wheelchair.

Higginbotham and Ridley also are suing to recover damages on claims of intentional discrimination, personal injuries and property damage. Higginbotham said he suffered injuries on Dec. 14, 2006, when his wheelchair became wedged on the steep grade of a curb ramp on 17th Street North. The suit said he was thrown onto the sidewalk and his power wheelchair fell on him.

Ridley said one of the front wheels of his wheelchair broke when his wheelchair struck a crevice in the sidewalk near 20th Street North on July 11.

The suit said many sidewalks contain broken pavement, level changes and excessive slopes, and many existing sidewalk curb cuts and ramps are too steep. The suit lists 36 places that it contends are problematic.

"That's just the tip of the iceberg," said Edward Zwilling, a Birmingham lawyer who filed the suit.

Linda Coleman, the city's ADA compliance officer, said the city is aware there are problems with curb ramps. She said the city is under an agreement with the Department of Justice to comply with the ADA and is working toward compliance.

Zwilling said he understands DOJ gave the city seven years to put in curb ramps at sidewalks where there were no curb ramps. He said the agreement didn't address specifically curb ramps where there are problems. Zwilling said he hopes the lawsuit will help get the work done as soon as possible.

Coleman said a tour is planned from Southside to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex to explore curb and sidewalk conditions.

Source: The Birmingham News at (Alabama) Plaintiffs Hope Their Lawsuit Forces the City to Make Sidewalks and Curb Ramps Wheelchair Accessible