An October decision by a U.S. District Court judge in Miami declared Southwest Airlines was not in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when a blind internet user was incapable of maneuvering the airline’s website effectively for ticketing. The judge’s decision also stated that the ADA only applies to physical spaces, and, as written, does not apply to the internet.
The lawsuit, brought up by blind Southwest Airlines’ customer Robert Gumson and the disabilities advocacy group Access Now, hoped to force Southwest Airlines to redesign its website for better accessibility for blind users. Gumson, using a screen reader and voice synthesizer, requested the site use a text alternative to currently-used graphics on the site, and to make the navigation bar easier to maneuver and understand. However, U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz dismissed the case after determining the “plain and unambigous language of the [ADA] statute. . .does not include Internet Web sites.”
According to an article on enabledonline.com written by Curtis Chong, Director of Technology at the National Federation of the Blind, for a blind computer user to access information via the internet, special screen access technology must be employed by the user. Normally, the user can then browse using the same software, such as Internet Explorer, as a sighted person, although occasionally there can be problems. Particular accessibility issues arise when keyboard command options don’t exist, or as in Gumson’s Southwest Airlines situation, when on-screen information isn’t “recognized and understood by the screen access technology,” wrote Chong.
“People who develop web browsers and/or e-mail programs need to pay attention to the [keyboard commands], and web page designers need to give careful attention to the [recognition],” wrote Chong. According to Chong, however, most software and websites today do attempt to accommodate a blind user’s screen access technology.
Southwest Airlines also came under fire earlier this year when it announced that it would begin actively enforcing its policy requiring obese passengers to purchase two seats. While opponents of the policy claimed discrimination, a court subsequently awarded a judgment to a Virgin Atlantic Airlines’ passenger who suffered injuries after being seated next to an obese passenger who spilled into the injured passenger’s seat on a Virgin Atlantic flight.
Sources: CNET news.com, enabledonline.com