By Carten Cordell, Federal Times, November 12, 2015
Three blind federal contractors who sued the General Services Administration over a website that they said was not accessible to the visually impaired have settled with the agency. A lawyer representing the contractors announced the settlement on Nov. 12.
"This is an excellent result not only for our clients, but for the blind community as a whole," said Lewis Wiener, co-chair of Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and partner at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP, in a statement.
The 18-month lawsuit began when the contractors found that one of GSA's websites, the System for Award Management or SAM.gov, was not accessible for the visually impaired and prevented the trio from maintaining their contractor status.
"The Internet is part of our daily lives, and being unable to access any website—much less a website that is essential to doing business with the federal government—puts members of the blind community at an economic disadvantage. It is unfortunate that it took the filing of a lawsuit to bring about meaningful change but we thank GSA for working collaboratively with us and our clients to make SAM.gov accessible," Wiener said.
The site, which maintains contractor registration and requires annual renewal, did not work with screen reading software, creating a barrier that discriminated against the trio, their lawyers said.
Sutherland and the Washington Lawyers' Committee, representing the contractors and the American Council of the Blind, filed a class action suit against the GSA in April 2014.
As a result of the settlement, the GSA will make changes to update the website, which will be reviewed by an independent accessibility expert, and sets up a process by which the visually-impaired can provide feedback for further updates, the lawyers said.
"On behalf of the American Council of the Blind, I want to acknowledge the excellent support received from Sutherland and the Washington Lawyers' Committee in arriving at this landmark settlement," said ACB president Kim Charlson, in a statement.
"I am very pleased that GSA is being held accountable for making SAM.gov accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. As a result of this settlement, it is my expectation that our community will not encounter access barriers with other GSA sites in the future."