SAN FRANCISCO – The National Federation of the Blind, the nation’s oldest and largest organization of blind people and the leading advocate for accessible technology, and three blind individuals—Michael Hingson, Mike May, and Tina Thomas—who reside in California and frequently fly United, filed a class-action lawsuit today in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California against United Airlines.
United uses airport kiosks that employ touchscreen technology in a manner such that they cannot be used by blind passengers. Passengers who are able to use the kiosks can access information about flights, check in for flights, print tickets and boarding passes, select seats, upgrade to United’s business or first class cabins, check baggage, and perform other transactions relevant to their air travel plans. The suit alleges that United is violating the California Disabled Persons Act and the Unruh Civil Rights Act because the services it provides through these kiosks are not available to blind passengers. United could easily add an audio interface, a tactile keyboard, or interactive screen reader technology that works with touchscreens to its kiosks, as other companies have done.
Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “The airline industry has an unfortunate history of discriminating against blind passengers, and now United Airlines is repeating that history by deploying inaccessible technology that we cannot use. United is engaging in this blatant discrimination even though the technology to make its kiosks accessible is readily available, has been deployed by others, and will involve little cost to the company. Instead of enjoying the features and convenience of these kiosks, including a quicker and more convenient check-in process, blind passengers must wait in long lines at the ticket counter, even when they have already purchased their tickets and checked in online. We will not tolerate a separate and unequal experience for blind passengers and demand that United cease its discrimination against us as soon as practicable.”
Michael Hingson, a blind motivational speaker and president and owner of a technology sales company, said: “I have traveled throughout the United States and the world for my public speaking engagements and as a technology sales representative, yet I cannot independently check in at the airport. It frustrates me, as a frequent traveler and United passenger, that I must wait for a United employee to assist me with the kiosk, seek help from a sighted passenger (in which case I must share sensitive private information with a total stranger), or else stand in a long line in order to complete the airport check-in process. I hope that this lawsuit will serve as a wake-up call to United and that the airline will swiftly make its kiosks accessible.”
Mike May, CEO of the Sendero Group, a leading manufacturer of technology for the blind, said: “I have been working in the adaptive technology field for twenty years, and I know well that it is easy and practical for United to make its kiosks accessible. There is simply no excuse for the long wait and inconvenience that other blind United passengers and I continue to experience at airports.”
Tina Thomas, a member of the United States Paralympic Judo Team, said: “I find it extremely ironic that United, which touts itself as the official airline of the U.S. Paralympic Team, discriminates against me as a member of that team and as a blind person. I sincerely hope that United will make a more serious and tangible commitment to treating passengers with disabilities equally.”
Plaintiffs are represented in this matter by Daniel F. Goldstein and Gregory P. Care of the Baltimore firm Brown, Goldstein, and Levy; and Laurence W. Paradis, Karla Gilbride, and Kevin Knestrick of the Berkeley firm Disability Rights Advocates.