WLC Attorney Deepa Goraya to Pursue Website and Smartphone App Accessibility

By Deepa Goraya, Washington Lawyers’ Committee Staff Attorney, Disability Rights Project

Most of us use the internet on a daily basis, whether it be for work, communication, personal pleasure or shopping. Access to the web is no longer a luxury, but a necessity, and something which we take for granted. However, for a significant percentage of US citizens, access to the web is not always a possibility and is still treated as if it were a luxury.

Blind and visually impaired individuals are able to access a computer and the web through assistive technology, such as talking screen readers. Screen reader users navigate websites and applications using keyboard commands. This means that the website must be coded properly to function with keyboard commands and not contain too many graphics or mouseovers (which would activate only if a mouse was hovered over the graphic), must have text-labeled buttons, and other features that make it compatible with a screen reader.

Under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, federal agencies are required to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. This includes disabled federal employees and members of the public. Electronic and information technology includes computers, software, networks, peripherals, and electronic office equipment. Additionally, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires that individuals with disabilities have equal access to the programs and services provided by recipients of federal financial assistance. This means the recipients’ websites as well as other services. However, many businesses, online services such as Netflix, and even government agencies and recipients of federal dollars still have websites that are inaccessible to blind users.

On April 22, 2014, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, along with Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP, filed a lawsuit against the General Services Administration, GSA, on behalf of the American Council of the Blind and three blind individuals who were not able to use GSA’s System for Award Management Database via the website www.sam.gov. These three blind individuals, who are federal government contractors, must register and annually renew their registration with sam.gov. However, because of its incompatibility with talking screen readers, they were not able to do so independently.

Such accessibility issues, and increasingly those related to smart phone apps, can prevent a blind individual from doing daily necessary tasks independently, and can even prevent them from performing their job functions. As a new staff attorney for the Disability Rights Project, funded by the Aid Association of the Blind, I am working on improving website and smartphone app accessibility, along with providing direct representation to individuals with disabilities experiencing discrimination in employment, education, access to public accommodations, housing, and in many other aspects of American society. Disability rights is an area of the law that is constantly growing and is vastly under-enforced. As a blind minority woman, I am thrilled to be representing a group of individuals who still largely experience second-class treatment.

If you believe you have been a victim of discrimination based on disability, contact paralegal Brook Hill at brook_hill@washlaw.org or at (202) 319-1000.

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