Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Madras HC rejects the argument that victim’s evidence could not be relied upon since she was blind

Madras High Court, rejecting the argument of the petitioner that victim’s evidence could not be relied upon since she was blind, said, “The victim as a blind lacks vision, but her version had vision and hence, this court holds that the evidence of the victim is admissible in evidence.”

According to the prosecution, auto driver Anbu Selvan was hired to transport the victim to her music class. However, he kidnapped her to a secluded location and sexually harassed her besides trying to kill her if she did not cooperate.

Challenging a trial court order awarding a seven-year jail term to him, Anbu Selvan moved the high court. Justice R M T Teekka Raman, however, termed Anbu Selvan as a ‘heartless person’ who had capitalised on the helpless situation of the visually challenged person and sexually assaulted her.

He is not entitled to reduction of sentence, not even for a single day, the judge asserted. Citing circumstantial and other evidence, the judge said, “Merely because of the disability, evidence of disabled persons cannot be treated as inferior in nature.”

Anbu Selvan had also argued, “The identity of the accused was not proved in the manner known to law and since the witness (victim) is a blind, her evidence cannot be termed as eye witness if at all, can be termed only as a hearsay witness which is inadmissible in evidence.”

The trial court convicted him for offences under sections 366 (kidnapping a woman), 354 (Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 506 (ii) (Criminal intimidation) of the IPC and Section 4 (harassment of woman) of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Woman Harassment Act primarily based on the evidence of the victim woman.

Merely because a victim of sexual harassment had visual disability, her evidence against the culprit cannot become inadmissible, said the court, awarding seven-year imprisonment to an autorickshaw driver who assaulted the woman. The court then recommended the Tamil Nadu State Legal Services Authority to grant Rs 1 lakh as compensation to the victim under the Tamil Nadu Victim Compensation Scheme.


Monday, April 5, 2021

USA: Justice Department moves unopposed motion to intervene as Plaintiff in a Disability Discrimination Suit Against City of Chicago Regarding Pedestrians with Vision Disabilities

Dear Colleagues,


This is a disability rights enforcement action by the Justice Department of United States of America against the City of Chicago, seeking to remedy the city’s failure to provide people who are blind, including those who are deaf-blind or have low vision, equal access to pedestrian safety information at intersection crossings, which the city provides almost exclusively through visual-only pedestrian signals.  The United States has sought declaratory, injunctive, and compensatory relief for this violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. 


Having moved an unopposed motion to intervene as a plaintiff in this disability discrimination lawsuit filed by private plaintiffs American Council of the Blind of Metropolitan Chicago, Ann Brash, Maureen Heneghan and Ray Campbell against the City of Chicago under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), the Department of Justice found in its investigation that the allegations were true.


The complaint alleges that the city of Chicago fails to provide people who are blind, have low vision, or are deaf-blind with equal access to pedestrian signal information at intersections. Pedestrian signal information, such as a flashing “Walk/Don’t Walk” signal, indicates when it is safe to cross the street. 


Accessible pedestrian signals (APSs) are devices that provide pedestrians with safe-crossing information in a non-visual format, such as through audible tones, speech messages, and vibrotactile surfaces. Since at least 2006, Chicago has recognised the need to install APSs for pedestrians with visual disabilities. Yet, while Chicago currently provides sighted pedestrians visual crossing signals at nearly 2,700 intersections, it has installed APSs at only 15 of those intersections. 


Thus over 99% of Chicago’s signalised intersections subjects people who are blind, have low vision, or are deaf-blind to added risks and burdens not faced by sighted pedestrians, including fear of injury or death which in contravening the ADA and Section 504 that require that individuals with disabilities have equal access to public services, including access to pedestrian crossing information that is critical for safety and for full participation in community life.


Petition seeks to ensure that Chicagoans with disabilities are provided equal access to city services, particularly those services whose purpose is public safety.


The motion and complaint seeking intervention were jointly filed by the Disability Rights Section of the department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois. Access the proposed motion to intervene at this link: https://www.ada.gov/acbmc/acbmc_motion.html.