Sound Stories. Sound Voices.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
You are on the KUOW archive site. Click here to go to our current site.

Seattle's Crummy Curbs Bring Lawsuit By Disability Advocates

Crossing Seattle streets can be hazardous for people with disabilities. That’s because curb cuts are either missing, broken or poorly placed.

Disability Rights Washington, an advocacy group for people with disabilities, wants to change that and has filed a class action suit against Seattle.


In many ways, David Whedbee’s morning commute to work is typical. He takes the light rail from his home in Columbia City. But when he gets off at the International District stop to get to his office, it gets a little perilous.

We’re on the southwest corner of Jackson Street and Fourth Avenue South, waiting to cross Jackson Street.

Whedbee: “What happens is the bus will line up right there to my right, on the lane going north, and we’ll both get a green light. So it’ll switch here in a minute.”

The light turns green. Instead of being able to go straight, Whedbee has to maneuver his electric wheelchair onto the curb cut that’s at a 45-degree angle. Once on the street, he quickly redirects his wheelchair to the crosswalk.

Whedbee: “Right now it’s fine because I’m in the crosswalk, and I’ve got about maybe 5 feet between where I am and the bus lane, but right now there’s a bus behind me.”

On the other side, Whedbee has to veer off toward the bus lane in order to get to the curb ramp and come back up to the sidewalk.

Whedbee: “If I’m not paying attention or the bus driver isn’t paying attention, I can get hit from behind.”

Whedbee said he knows what to expect because he navigates the streets regularly. But for other people in wheelchairs who aren’t familiar with the streets, it can be a problem.

Whedbee is part of the class action suit against the city of Seattle. The lawsuit says the city has failed to meet federal and state requirements for safe and accessible curb ramps.

Whedbee: “It’s not just as simple as just throwing some curb cut there. It’s helpful for the city to listen to people in wheelchairs trying to negotiate issues.”

An estimated one in five Americans has a disability.  

The mayor’s office has issued a statement in response to the lawsuit. The city, it said, currently invests more per capita on curb ramps than any other major city and remains committed to making sure everyone has access to their own community.

Year started with KUOW: 1994