One of the U.S. General Services Administration’s duties is to make sure that federal contractors comply with the nation’s laws, including those enacted to ensure people with disabilities have equal access to programs and services.
But, according to blind federal contractors who filed a proposed class action on April 22, it is the agency itself that is out of compliance with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a landmark measure that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and mandates equal opportunity for all who are eligible to, in this case, participate fully in government contracting.
In American Council of the Blind v. Daniel Tangherlini, the plaintiffs contend a key GSA website on which all federal contractors are required to register and annually renew their contracts, and which serves as a resource for researching contracts, is effectively unusable by those with vision disabilities. Read the complaint here.
The site, SAM.gov—shorthand for the System for Award Management database—lacks compatibility with “screen reader” software, which translates into speech all the facets of website navigation, according to the class complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Such software is relied on by millions of blind users; without it, the buttons, checkboxes, dropdown menus, search functions, site registrations, and other functions are unintelligible. And SAM.gov’s help desk, with tech staff lacking knowledge to help disabled users, is little help, the complaint said.
The plaintiffs ask the court to order GSA to make the website compliant with the Rehabilitation Act by remaking SAM.gov into a fully usable resource for the blind and visually impaired, and to grant a permanent injunction to keep the site perpetually accessible to them, as well as attorneys’ fees.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys include Lewis Wiener, Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, LLP, Washington, D.C.; and Matthew Handley, Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, Washington, D.C.
Lisa Hoffman contributes to law.com.