Americans With Disabilities Act Overrides Local Zoning Rules


George and Astrid Dadian live in the Village of Wilmette, Illinois. The Dadians both have medical problems—she suffers from osteoporosis and asthma, and he from orthopedic problems. That is why they wanted their reconstructed home to have a garage that could be reached from the front curb.

The Dadians have lived in Wilmette for forty two years. Their home, like most in the Village, has a garage that is accessible only from the back of the lot. They plan an extensive reconstruction, however, and they hope to move the new garage entrance around to the front of the house. This would shorten the distance Mrs. Dadian has to back up to get out their garage, and her doctors agree that the change would be better for her, since she would not have to twist and turn for as long when backing out.

Neighbors of the Dadians are concerned about the safety of small children if Ms. Dadian has trouble turning around long enough to back up to the residential street. The Village suggested that the Dadians look into putting in a back-yard turnabout to limit Mrs. Dadian’s backup distance, but the couple rejected that approach because it would cost them most of their back yard.

Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA), the Dadians’ zoning problems became a legal issue. They argued before a federal judge and jury in Illinois that the Village’s refusal to permit the front access amounted to discrimination against them based on their disabilities.

The Village objected, arguing that the Dadians are not disabled within the meaning of the ADA, and that the law does not require the Village to approve this curb cut even if it does apply. After a jury trial, the Village was ordered to approve the front access to the Dadians’ garage, and the Village appealed.

The ADA prevents governmental or private discrimination against the disabled, and defines disability very broadly. According to the federal Court of Appeals Mrs. Dadian fits within the law’s definition because she suffers physical impairments that substantially limit a major life activity. Mr. Dadian’s disability status is less clear, but the ADA applies even if only one spouse is disabled.

Once Mrs. Dadian’s disability is established, the ADA requires local governments to provide make accommodations for her disabilities. The appeals court agreed that the front-access curb cut was reasonable, especially since six of the sixteen homes on the Dadians’ block already have similar front or side access. Dadian v. Village of Wilmette, October 18, 2001.

The ADA (and the related Fair Housing Act Amendments of 1988) can overrule local zoning restrictions. Based on those laws, local governments and private businesses can be forced to show that rules and decisions reasonably accommodate the needs of the disabled.

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