Weather Not So Delightful: Snow Removal and the ADA

Northeast ADA Center Staff April 26, 2020

As winter hangs on here in the Northeast, snow can be a challenge for businesses and a barrier for individuals with disabilities. Snow plowed into the access aisle of an accessible parking space, or a curb cut not being shoveled can prevent someone with a mobility disability from getting where they need to go. The Northeast ADA Center is often asked what the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires for snow removal.

Physical accessibility demands ongoing planning and effort. In addition, accessible features must be kept in usable condition for the public. The ADA applies to businesses as well as to state and local governments and all related entities. Businesses are subject to Title III of the ADA, while Title II applies to state and local governments and their instrumentalities. Regulations from the Department of Justice for both Titles II and III specifically require a covered entity to maintain its accessible features. This includes accessible parking spaces and the accessible route—including access aisles and any curb cuts leading from those parking spaces to the facility entrance—as well as the area in front of the door and any operating controls. “Where a public accommodation must provide an accessible route, the route must remain accessible and not blocked by obstacles.” Additionally, where accessible sidewalks are provided, they must also be usable. “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).”

“Reasonable efforts” are key. There is not a specific time frame in which covered entities must act, but snow removal must be done as quickly as reasonably possible. And, as I noted earlier, snow must not be plowed into/on top of accessible features or components of an accessible route.

But federal law is not the only law to consider. Many states have local ordinances that apply following a snow storm. For example in the Northeast, both New York and New Jersey have specific regulations. New York State’s law S 1203-e establishes a fine for anyone who renders an accessible parking space unusable by dumping or shoveling snow in to it. A first offense is subject to a $25 fine while subsequent offenses can be penalized up to $100. Local jurisdictions have some latitude to increase these amounts as well. And in New Jersey, the New Jersey Snow Removal Act (C.394:4-207.9) requires accessible parking spaces to be shoveled within 48 hours of weather clearing. Failure to remove snow and ice can result in a fine of $200 to $500. If you are uncertain about your state and whether or not it has specific snow removal laws, contact your regional ADA center for guidance and keep both the ADA and local law in mind.