HUDSON, Fla. >> 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, 66.
But in October, Wanda 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 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 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 nonhuman-powered vehicle on sidewalks, with the exception of motorized wheelchairs.
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 not made a specific exception.
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.
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 said. “It’s been difficult.”
Ann Siegel, legal director for Disability Rights Florida, said even though the ADA was passed decades ago, it’s still unevenly applied across communities. She said as a federal law, the ADA cannot be superseded by state statutes. But when confusion arises, she said it might be time to reevaluate the statute from the lens of those with disabilities.
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 from a person who needs it, she said.
Fearful of driving the golf cart and getting another ticket, the Boudreaus have been mostly homebound since the ticket. Their daughter got them a three-wheel scooter, which both Wanda and Lawrence have tipped over several times.
Because Lawrence takes blood thinners, cuts and scrapes can be dangerous, 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.