The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 described how curb ramps should be built. Yet, many such ramps in the Boston area are insufficient or nonexistent. Some do not slope gradually or lack the specific height and shape required—making them obstacles rather than accessibility features.
A WBUR article cites that “a 2018 survey by the Disability Law Center in Northampton showed that less than half of the city’s 23,000 curb ramps met ADA specifications.”
Tom Murphy, a supervising attorney at the Law Center, an independent nonprofit, stated that the Justice Department has the authority to enforce the ADA, but, for the most part, improvements have been driven by residents.
Recently, many across the country have successfully won lawsuits to upgrade curb ramps. Murphy represented plaintiffs who included Flanagan and Muehe when they sued the city of Boston in 2018.
Recently, Murphy represented a group of other motivated residents who approached Boston officials to work out a settlement. The agreement, approved by a federal judge, required the city to install or upgrade an average of 1,630 curb ramps per year to meet ADA standards. They will start with key areas that are near public transportation and are most frequented. Officials hope to complete the project by the end of 2030, when Boston celebrates its 400th birthday.
“We're a very old city, we're a winter city, we’re a vertical city, and we're a very densely packed city,” said Kristen McCosh, disability commissioner and ADA coordinator for the City of Boston. “So right off the bat, we have a lot of challenges.” Despite these challenges, Murphy believes this change will make the entire city fully accessible for the first time ever.