by Eric Bridges
For many years, blind or visually impaired federal employees and those contracting with government agencies have continuously encountered inaccessible technology as part of their daily work activities. On April 22nd, three brave ACB members stood up for their rights as federal contractors and joined with ACB to file a class-action lawsuit against the General Services Administration (GSA) concerning the inaccessibility of SAM.gov, a web site that federal contractors are required to use when registering and renewing registration as contractors. Details are included in the press release below.
Sutherland and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs File Class Action Against General Services Administration on Behalf of Blind Federal Contractors and the American Council of the Blind
WASHINGTON (April 22, 2014) – The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP announced today that they have filed a class action on behalf of blind federal contractors and the American Council of the Blind against the General Services Administration (GSA), the federal executive branch agency responsible for administering the federal government’s non-defense contracts. The complaint, filed in federal district court in the District of Columbia, alleges that GSA has failed to provide a website accessible to blind federal contractors who must register and annually renew their federal contractor registration. The complaint names three individual federal contractors and the American Council of the Blind as plaintiffs.
GSA is responsible for ensuring that recipients of federal funding comply with the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits both the federal government and recipients of federal funding from discriminating on the basis of disability, including blindness. GSA requires federal contractors to register and annually renew their registration on a GSA website, SAM.gov. The complaint alleges that SAM.gov is incompatible with screen-reading software that many blind individuals, including the individual plaintiffs in this case, rely on to navigate the Internet. As a result, the plaintiffs allege that GSA discriminates against blind federal contractors who cannot register or renew their registration on SAM.gov, which they are required to do under federal law. The lawsuit seeks to force GSA to make its website accessible to blind federal contractors.
Sutherland became involved in the case through the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, which helped two of the individual plaintiffs file administrative complaints with GSA.
“The great irony here is that the agency charged with ensuring that others comply with the Rehabilitation Act and make their websites accessible to the blind is not itself complying with the law. GSA is effectively telling federal contractors to ‘do as I say, not as I do,’” said Sutherland partner Lewis S. Wiener, who leads the team representing the plaintiffs. “We are honored to work with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee and the ACB in such a worthy cause and are working vigorously to ensure that SAM.gov is accessible to blind and visually impaired federal contractors.”
In addition to Mr. Wiener, the plaintiffs are represented by Sutherland associates Amanda R. Callais and Charles M. Kruly.
“In 2014 there is absolutely no reason why a website, not to mention a government website, should not be accessible to everyone,” said Kim Charlson, president of the American Council of the Blind (ACB). “The inaccessibility of SAM.gov points out a clear lack of commitment by leadership at GSA to make accessibility a core component of the design and development process.”
Matthew Handley, the director of litigation at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, commented, “The law requires that GSA provide equal access to SAM.gov to all persons seeking to be federal contractors. Compliance with the law means, at a minimum, maintaining a registration system accessible to individuals with disabilities, many of whose livelihoods depend on their ability to maintain their status as federal contractors. Unfortunately, GSA has not met this minimal requirement, compelling the lawsuit filed today.”