Blind man sues Dell over 'inaccessible' website

'Screen access technology has existed for decades'

Updated A legally blind man who cannot see faces or text claims Dell violated federal accessibility laws when it formatted its website and online store "improperly."

The lawsuit [PDF], filed on Wednesday this week in a Massachusetts federal court, alleged that Dell has made it harder for visually impaired people to interact with the platform than sighted users, thus violating the effective communication and equal access requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The suit noted that the rate at which "the Attorney General [is] bringing suit seeking compliance is extremely low," meaning plaintiff Stephen Giannaros, who has cone-rod dystrophy and very little sight, is basically acting as a "private attorney general to ensure Defendant communicates effectively with him and other consumers who demand full and equal screen reader access to Defendant’s digital services."

The complaint said Giannaros had attempted to access Dell.com both using JAWS 2020, a screenreading software made by Freedom Scientific for Windows, as well as iOS's built-in VoiceOver screenreading software on his iPhone. JAWS, one of the most popular screen readers, allows visually impaired users to read with a text-to-speech output or using a refreshable Braille display – a nifty piece of electro-mechanical hardware that raises or lowers rounded braille pins depending on which letters you are reading.

The suit noted, as examples of the platform's inaccessibility, that Giannaros had tried to look into a feature on Dell.com where the user can apply for credit through a “Dell Preferred Account” to finance their purchase, but this resulted in an improperly formatted pop-up that was invisible to screen reader users. Instead, the website kept prompting the user with info from the underlying page. This made it "impossible for Plaintiff to perceive the additional information he needs before choosing this financing option," alleged the suit.

The complaint also described the plaintiff as looking at pricing options and encountering an “old” or “original” price that a sighted person would see had a strikethrough, as well as a “sale” price. The formatting meant the screen reader was not able to discern this, however, and read out both prices, which would be "unnecessarily confusing" to visually impaired users.

The document went on to note that the ADA had been in place since 1990, and that despite 30 years having passed since its introduction, "numerous facilities are still not compliant, leaving the disabled population in a second-class citizenship limbo."

Giannaros is seeking a declaratory judgment to confirm Dell is in violation, an injunction for the court to say the firm must make its platforms accessible to individuals with visual disabilities, an accessibility audit, training and other corrective measures, and attorney's fees and the costs of the suit.®

The case is 1:21-cv-10347-WGY, Giannaros v. Dell Technologies

Updated at 17:45 UTC on 5 March 2021 to add:

A Dell spokesperson said in a statement: "While we won't comment specifically on the pending litigation, Dell Technologies' accessibility policy strives to remove barriers for people of all abilities in our owned and operated products and services, including applications, software, web content, and documents. We are committed to creating an accessible customer experience and one that continually evolves and improves."

Updated to add:

Giannaros and Dell reached a confidential settlement in June 2021.

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