Lawsuit prompts GSA to improve website accessibility

keyboard with an Access button and an unlocked padlock
Federal Government to Make Website Accessible

The General Services Administration and the American Council of the Blind announced a settlement November 12, require the government agency to overhaul its website for federal contractors.

“I am very pleased that GSA is being held accountable for making accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired,” ACB President Kim Charlson said in a news release. “As a result of this settlement, it is my expectation that our community will not encounter access barriers with other GSA sites in the future.”

In April 2014, the ACB and three blind federal contractors filed a class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, accusing the GSA of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. In the complaint, the plaintiffs alleged that the agency’s System for Award Management website, known as SAM. gov, was incompatible with most screen readers. As a result, they were unable to re-register their contracts, as they are required to each year under federal law.

Attorneys from the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP represented the plaintiffs during the next 18 months of negotiations.

Under the settlement, the GSA is required to implement the requested changes, as well as undergo an additional review from an independent accessibility expert. The GSA must also create a process for the public to test and provide feedback on future changes to the website.

“This is an excellent result not only for our clients, but for the blind community as a whole,” said Lewis S. Wiener, co-Chair of the Washington Lawyer’s Committee, in the news release. “The Internet is part of our daily lives, and being unable to access any website—much less a website that is essential to doing business with the federal government—puts members of the blind community at an economic disadvantage.

“It is unfortunate that it took the filing of a lawsuit to bring about meaningful change but we thank GSA for working collaboratively with us and our clients to make accessible.”