ACLU sues Cambridge over access to buildings

April 12, 2000|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Maryland Disability Law Center have filed suit against the city of Cambridge, charging that the city has failed to make its buildings accessible to the physically disabled.

The lawsuit -- filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on behalf of Cambridge resident Randy N. Whaples, who became disabled after a stroke in 1994 -- claims a wide range of city facilities are in violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Among them are City Hall, the Rescue Fire Company, the Municipal Yacht Basin and the sidewalks around Dorchester County Circuit Court in the historic High Street area, the lawsuit says.

Deborah A. Jeon, managing attorney for the ACLU office on the Eastern Shore, said yesterday the city has failed to live up to negotiated timetables to address the problems of accessibility.

"It's been frustrating," Jeon said.

Whaples, 40, the executive director of the Eastern Shore Center for Independent Living and a wheelchair user, said 30 of 36 sidewalk curbs in the city are "impossible for people in a wheelchair to use."

"It's a shame when you have a mayor and city council who instead of fixing the problems want to drag them out in federal court," he said.

Cambridge Mayor David J. Wooten declined to comment, saying he had not seen the suit, which was filed last week.

Lawsuits against public and private facilities under the ADA are not uncommon.

Two such lawsuits -- one filed on behalf of disabled inmates at the Roxbury Correctional Institution in Hagerstown and another filed by three citizens against Baltimore's Circuit Court -- were settled this year.

But Jeon said she could not recall another case against a single jurisdiction where so many of the facilities were out of compliance.

The lawsuit asks the court to order Cambridge to make all its programs and facilities accessible to the disabled, and asks unspecified monetary damages on behalf of Whaples.

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