US group sues AOL over access for the blind

The US National Federation of the Blind has filed suit in against America Online, charging its internet service is inaccessible to the blind and violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Nine individuals, all of whom are blind, are also plaintiffs in the suit, which was filed in US District Court in Massachusetts.

The suit charges that AOL, unlike other ISPs, has designed its AOL service so that it's incompatible with screen-access software programs for the visually impaired. As a result, an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 blind Americans don't have access to the country's largest ISP.

The suit seeks to order AOL to redesign its AOL service to accommodate screen-access software.

"Individual members of the blind community have contacted AOL repeatedly trying to get some level of response. It's been nine years since the ADA has been put into effect and we've had how many [upgrades] to AOL? It was time to get their attention," said Dan Goldstein, attorney at Brown, Goldstein and Levy LLP in Baltimore, which represents the NFB.

AOL spokesman Rich D'Amato said the company was "disappointed" by NFB's suit.

D'Amato said the next version of AOL, to be released sometime next year, would include an interface to screen readers, and AOL is finishing development of a product that would allow disabled people to call by telephone to have e-mail read to them. "We are committed to the work we've done and continue to do in this area," he said.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, signed into law in 1990, requires public places to make "public accommodations" for disabled people, such as installing wheelchair ramps, Braille signs and other accessibility features.

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