Saturday, January 2, 2010

Law School Site Sued over Web Access Issues

It seems that a website must be built in such a manner that vision impaired and blind individuals can access the site without problems. Albeit, those with vision problems use special tools that allow them access to the sites, it would seem that the problem is not one of individual sites, but with the software choices necessary to "read" the site.

However, since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) pre-dates the Web as we now know it and was intended to deal with physical structures. This can make it problematic to apply to a virtual presence such as a web site.

The Unruh Civil Rights Act requires any business establishment of any kind to be accessible if doing business in California so this seems to have the wider scope that might be needed for a successful lawsuit.

There have been a couple of ADA successes - such as the Ramada, Priceline cases and, most recently, the Target lawsuit - I don't understand how the US National Federation of the Blind can keep bringing these lawsuits against individual business and affect a change with the Web. It would seem that they are only in it for the money that can be won by contesting the issue. I believe a better solution lies in the creation of software and standards that will allow all individuals to traverse these sites and the Web.

This is an article found on the Web:

The US National Federation of the Blind; its California affiliate; and a blind law school applicant, Deepa Goraya, filed a lawsuit on February 1st 2009 against the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC).

The complaint asserts that the LSAC, the body that administers the Law School Admissions Test (which most aspiring law students must take) and provides other services to law schools and law school applicants, violates the California Disabled Persons Act and the Unruh Act because the LSAC web site and LSAT preparation materials are inaccessible to blind law school applicants. The plaintiffs did attempt to meet with the LSAC to resolve the matter, but the LSAC canceled a planned meeting.

The lawsuit claims that the LSAC web site contains a number of accessibility barriers including improperly formatted online forms, tables and charts that cannot be read by screen access software, and faulty keyboard navigation support. These access barriers make it difficult or impossible for blind people to use the site to register for the LSAT, amongst other things. The site is also the only avenue for people to apply online to any law school accredited by the American Bar Association. However, blind applicants cannot submit their applications without sighted assistance because the application forms are improperly formatted. In addition, none of the LSAT practice materials, which include previously administered versions of the test that sighted people can obtain on the LSAC site, are available in accessible electronic formats.

“The Internet is extremely useful to blind people, as well as our sighted peers, when Web sites are properly formatted according to well-established guidelines; there is no good reason for any Web site offering goods and services to the public to be inaccessible to blind people. For too long, blind people have experienced barriers to entering the legal profession, despite our long history of demonstrated success in that field. The National Federation of the Blind will not sit quietly while the LSAC willfully refuses to provide the same services to blind people seeking admission to law school that it does to the sighted. The LSAC is engaging in blatant discrimination against the blind and we will not stand for it.”

Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind

“Trying to use the LSAC Web site made the experience of applying to law school a nightmare when it should have been as easy for me as for anyone else. I had to select and rely upon a reader for over fifty hours to complete my law school applications. Also, none of the practice tests available on the Web site were accessible. I want the process of gaining admission to law school to be easier for all blind people who are interested in entering this noble profession, and I hope this action will achieve that goal.” - Deepa Goraya, a law school applicant and named plaintiff in the suit