Sarah Jones


In 2005, 54.4 million people in the United States reported some degree of disability. For many of these people—particularly the 13.5 million Americans who use wheelchairs, canes, crutches, or walkers—the issue of sidewalk accessibility is not merely one of convenience, but of civil rights and public safety. Faced with public sidewalks that are impassable due to disrepair, physical obstacles, or an absence of curb ramps, many individuals with disabilities are forced to choose between remaining housebound or traveling in the streets—posing a danger to both themselves and drivers. However, as disability activists push to resolve these shortcomings with an eye toward enhancing accessibility, cities counter by pointing to the significant expense of upgrading thousands of miles of sidewalk. How to remedy the deterioration of public sidewalks has become a topic of debate between disability advocates and cities grappling with severe budget constraints. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides that “no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.” This Note examines the circuit split among federal courts as to whether public sidewalks are “services, programs, or activities” within the meaning of Title II, thus providing plaintiffs with a private right of action to force cities to ensure that public sidewalks are accessible to the disabled. This Note argues that the statutory text, legislative history, implementing regulations, and agency interpretation of Title II of the ADA supports the conclusion that “services, programs, or activities” includes public sidewalks.

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