Blind Texas employees file lawsuit against state, Oracle

Say lack of access to apps violates their privacy, state laws

The National Federation of the Blind has filed a lawsuit against Oracle Corp. and the state of Texas seeking to ensure that all applications used by the state government are accessible to blind state employees.

The  suit was filed earlier this month in the Travis County District Court in Austin by the advocacy group and three blind Texas state workers who claim that their inability to access the applications is preventing them from doing their jobs. The suit specifically cited the human resource applications in the Oracle PeopleSoft software used by the state Health and Human Services and Workforce Commissions. Defendants in the lawsuit include the directors of these agencies, the state's acting CTO, Brian Rawson, and Oracle.

The lawsuit seeks to force Oracle to make the HR software in its ERP software accessible, and for the state to stop purchasing any inaccessible software.

Tommy Craig, president of the Texas chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, said that Texas law requires that "all software and computer systems purchased by the state be accessible for blind employees. That law has been in effect for 10 years." He noted blind supervisors cannot now access the records of workers who report to them, while blind employees can't access their own records without assistance, which raises privacy and confidentiality issues.

Craig suggested that various remedies are available to the state to make applications accessible to blind employees. For instance, a Braille enabled device could be attached to a computer serial port, or applications could be voice-enabled, he said. "It doesn't take a lot to do it. Just put a little a planning into it," Craig said.

Edwin Kunz, who directs a rehabilitation center for the blind within the Health and Human Services Commission's Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services and a plaintiff in the case, said he has been hurt by the lack of access to the HR applications. "Because I must have sighted assistance for all of these personnel functions, both my privacy and the privacy of my employees are routinely violated," he said in a statement. "I've complained about the problems with the software, but nothing has been done to fix them. I hope this lawsuit will spur Oracle to move quickly to correct this problem; otherwise the state will have to purchase human resources software from someone else."

Renee Mauzy, the general counsel for the state's IT operation, the Department of Information Resources, said the state plans to deliver an initial response to the lawsuit on Monday. She said the DIR is already working with Oracle and the state HHS and Workforce Commissions to fix the problems. "We're in the initial stages of trying to figure out what the products are doing or not doing," Mauzy said. "We'll do whatever the court orders. The DIR wants to get this resolved. We want software that's accessible."

Both the Health and Human Services Commission and Texas Workforce Commission declined to comment on the suit, citing pending litigation. An Oracle spokeswoman also declined to comment on the suit.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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