Winter is coming to end, but this was picture was taken February 22, 2017 in the Freedom Resource Center service area.
(image description: a cement ramp is full of snow)
Why is this an important issue? Tenants with some type of physical disability; whether permanent, progressive, or temporary, don’t have a way to get out of their apartment complex and into the community, they become prisoners to their home, at no fault of their own. Students, employees, shoppers are unable to get into the buildings they need to get into to. We get snow in North Dakota and Minnesota every year, so landlords, educational settings, and businesses should have a snow removal plan in place for. It’s interesting because the walkways for tenants, students, employees, and visitors without physical disabilities are cleared almost daily, but the accessible pathway remains inaccessible. Although we are at the beginning of March, we can still get accumulating snow. How long are those with physical disabilities kept prisoners in their own homes, students have trouble accessing their schools, and businesses lose out on business, while those without physical disabilities get their walkways cleared so they can have access to the community?
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Snow removal rules
What obligation does a public agency have regarding snow removal in its walkways?
A public agency must maintain its walkways in an accessible condition, with only isolated or temporary interruptions in accessibility. 28 CFR §35.133. Part of this maintenance obligation includes reasonable snow removal efforts. (9-12-06)
35.133 Maintenance of accessible features.
(a) A public entity shall maintain in operable working condition those features of facilities and equipment that are required to be readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities by the Act or this part.
(b) This section does not prohibit isolated or temporary interruptions in service or access due to maintenance or repairs.
(56 FR 35716, July 26, 1991, as amended by Order No. 1694-93, 58 FR 17521, Apr. 5, 1993)
What day-to-day maintenance is a public agency responsible for under the ADA?
As part of maintenance operations, public agencies’ standards and practices must ensure that the day-to-day operations keep the path of travel on pedestrian facilities open and usable for persons with disabilities, throughout the year. This includes snow removal, as noted above, as well as debris removal, maintenance of accessible pedestrian walkways in work zones, and correction of other disruptions. ADAAG 4.1.1(4). Identified accessibility needs should be noted and incorporated into the transition plan. (9-12-06)
When weather conditions such as snow and ice limit or prevent access to services, programs, and activities, a town that houses programs in an accessible facility will have to maintain access to ensure that those programs are accessible. Maintenance of accessible features would include the removal of snow from accessible parking spaces, parking space access aisles, the accessible route to the accessible entrance, and accessible entrances. Although temporary interruptions in services due to bad weather are expected, alternate services should be provided if snow and ice cannot be cleared in a timely manner.
How a jurisdiction handles snow removal from sidewalks and paved shared-use paths is also an ADA issue. Snow removal is treated differently because of its temporary nature and because responsibility for clearing the snow is diffused. However, there is a legal obligation to remove snow within a reasonable period of time. Most jurisdictions need to have a plan in place to do it, and snow removal programs must include clearing curb ramps. Snow-blocked curb ramps due to plowing are an ADA issue. ADA complaints and issues related to snow removal involve response times and proper clearing:
- Many complaints are received when snow is plowed into “handicapped” parking spaces for storage.