Blind Workers File Suit Against Oracle, Texas

Say inaccessibility of apps violates law

The National Federation of the Blind and three state employees have 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 workers.

The suit, filed last month in Travis County District Court in Austin, contends that the workers’ inability to access the applications is preventing them from adequately doing their jobs. It specifically cited the human resources applications in the Oracle PeopleSoft software used by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) and the Texas Workforce Commission.

The lawsuit seeks to force Oracle to make its software accessible and to force the state to stop purchasing any inaccessible software.

Defendants in the suit include the directors of the state agencies; the state’s acting chief technology officer, Brian Rawson; and Oracle.

One of the plaintiffs, Edwin Kunz, the director of a rehabilitation center for the blind within the HHSC’s Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, contended that the lack of access to the human resources applications regularly causes privacy problems for employees.

“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,” Kunz said.

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 to blind employees.”

He noted that blind supervisors can’t access the records of people who report to them and that blind employees can’t access their own records without assistance, which raises privacy and confidentiality issues.

Craig suggested that various remedies are available to make the applications accessible. For example, a Braille-enabled device could be attached to a PC’s serial port, or applications could be voice-enabled, he said. “It doesn’t take a lot to do it.” Craig said.

Renee Mauzy, the general counsel for the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR), said the state plans to deliver an initial response to the lawsuit today. She said the DIR, the state’s IT operation, is already working with Oracle and the Texas commissions to fix the problems.

Both the HHSC and the Workforce Commission declined to comment on the suit, citing pending litigation. An Oracle spokeswoman also declined to comment.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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