MI Court of Appeals Backs Disability Rights of Cyclist on Mackinac Island

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
March 27, 2003 12:00 am

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DETROIT – Responding to a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, a state appeals court today ruled unanimously that Mackinac Island violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by refusing to grant a resident with multiple sclerosis his request to use an electric-assisted tricycle.

“This decision is a victory for both people with disabilities and the City of Mackinac Island,” said Michael J. Steinberg, Legal Director of the ACLU of Michigan. “The Court essentially stated that the city can easily accommodate bicycle riders with disabilities without destroying the charm of the island.”

Located between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas, Mackinac Island, with a year-round population of 600, is well known as a bicycling haven; cycling is the primary form of transportation on the island. Because of his multiple sclerosis, Donald Bertrand does not have the stamina or balance to ride a typical two-wheel bicycle. Accordingly, his doctor told him to purchase an electric-assist tricycle so that he could make it up a hill on those occasions when he did not have the strength to make it on his own. The tricycle has a virtually silent motor and does not travel more than 10 miles per hour. Bertrand repeatedly asked Island officials for permission to use the tricycle, but they refused, citing a policy prohibiting motorized vehicles.

According to the published decision, the use of an electric-assist tricycle on the streets of Mackinac “does not fundamentally or substantially alter the character,” of the Island. The court further agreed that the Island “has demonstrated its capacity to preserve its unique environment through the use of permits and enforcement,” since they already allow electric wheelchairs and Amigo carts.

“This decision embraces the principle of equality for people with disabilities,” said Stewart Hakola, an ACLU cooperating attorney who argued the case in the Court of Appeals. “Don Bertrand should be allowed to enjoy cycling on the streets of Mackinac Island just like everyone else.”

“I love Mackinac Island,” said Bertrand, “and I hated to feel unwelcome on the Island. I am so happy that I’ll now be able to ride my tricycle.”

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