When he could no longer walk 10 feet without taking a break, Lawrence Boudreau looked for help.
The vascular disease in his legs was worsening. And his wife Wanda Boudreau, 71, had bad knees and nerve damage from shingles. The Hudson couple, who don’t own a car and whose only income is monthly Social Security checks, searched for mobility scooters but they were too expensive.
Then they found a used golf cart for $1,600. Research led them to believe that golf carts are considered a mobility device under the Americans With Disabilities Act.
“We just didn’t have the money to afford anything else,” said Lawrence Boudreau, 66.
But in October, Wanda Boudreau was driving the golf cart along a U.S. 19 sidewalk when she was pulled over and given a $164 ticket. In August, she had been pulled over by the same Pasco County Sheriff’s deputy and given a warning.
The Boudreaus said they felt they were allowed to drive the golf cart and that their health troubles qualified them as “disabled” under the federal law. The ADA explainer from the U.S. Department of Justice said a golf cart was considered an “other power-driven mobility device,” and said it may be allowed in places it is otherwise not. Lawrence called the Sheriff’s Office to ask if he could use it, and he said he was reassured the couple could.
Wanda Boudreau had a printout of the ADA guidelines on her when she was ticketed. Still, Sgt. Richard Scilex wrote her up for violating Florida Statute 316.1995, which forbids any non-human-powered vehicle on sidewalks, with the exception of motorized wheelchairs.
“This is not right what you’re doing to us sir, you’re wrong, I’m sorry,” she said while he ticketed her, according to a recording she took on her phone.
A Florida statute that outlines when golf carts can be used on the road makes no mention of disability, forbidding the use except in situations where the local government has made a specific exception. But Lawrence Boudreau said the ADA information sheet they carry in the gold cart reads: “...if golf carts are generally prohibited in a park, the park may be required to allow a golf cart when it is being used because of a person’s mobility disability, unless there is a legitimate safety reason that it cannot be accommodated.”
Months after their ticket, the Boudreaus tried everything they could think of to toss the ticket and get permission to use the golf cart. They contacted lawyers. They reached out to the justice department, Disability Rights Florida, the State Attorney’s Office and local representatives.
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They also pleaded their case in court.
“While the Pasco Sheriff’s Office is sympathetic to Ms. Boudreau’s mobility challenges, the Pasco Sheriff’s Office is unaware of any provision in the Americans with Disabilities Act which allows a person seeking an accommodation to violate the law,” said Amanda Hunter, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office.
In the end, the cost of an appeal would be more than the ticket. So on March 18, they paid it.
“We pretty much exhausted every avenue that we possibly can,” Lawrence Boudreau said. “It’s been difficult.”
Ann Siegel, the legal director for Disability Rights Florida, said even though the ADA was passed decades ago, it’s still unevenly applied across communities.
Siegel said as a federal law, the ADA cannot be superseded by state statutes. But when that confusion arises, she said it may be time to reevaluate the statute from the lens of those with disabilities.
“I realize these laws are in place for safety, but we often don’t think what will be the fallout,” she said.
Every case needs to be looked at on an individual basis — someone without a disability using a golf cart or Segway on a sidewalk is different than a person who needs it, she said. Instead, a hard and fast rule is often applied, she said, and people are penalized or denied equal access.
A spokeswoman for Pasco County said it was a Sheriff’s Office concern and that nothing in the county ordinances addresses golf carts specifically.
Sonya Walling, a legislative aide for Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano’s office heard from Boudreau and said she told him she didn’t know how the ADA would apply. If traffic court found him in violation then there wasn’t much to be done, she said.
State Rep. Amber Mariano, R-Hudson, also reviewed the claim, but was not able to do much, said Alana Fay, an aide in Mariano’s office. Amber Mariano is Jack Mariano’s daughter.
“I think sometimes when we merge federal and state government, not all of the laws merge beautifully,” Fay said.
Fearful of driving the golf cart and getting another ticket, the Boudreaus have been mostly homebound since. Their daughter got them a three-wheel scooter, which both Wanda and Lawrence have tipped over on several times.
Because Lawrence Boudreau takes blood thinner medication, he said he can’t be getting scraped up and cut too often, so he doesn’t risk the ride.
“It’s been so exasperating for the both of us here, and we’re depressed because we basically can’t get out of the house,” he said.
With the coronavirus, they feel even more worried. The only way to travel beyond a short distance is the public bus system, which can be crowded.
Boudreau said he could use a standard walker, but it’s inefficient for long distances —and embarrassing. When he tries to get his exercise in, he hopes to find private places where people don’t “look at him funny,” he said.
Recently, he went to a doctor and got a disability parking permit. His legs have gotten worse in the past few months because he’s been able to exercise less without leaving the house, he said.
“If you have a disability, you have a reason to be using it,” Boudreau said about a golf cart. “It’s entirely legal and it should not be being persecuted like we’ve been persecuted.”