By Minh N. Vu

They are sprouting up everywhere:  Kiosks that allow customers to buy tickets, rent DVDs, get boarding passes, check-in at a hotel, count change, and even rent cars without ever having to interact with a human being.  These self-service kiosks can be a boon for customers and businesses, but they also create lawsuit exposure for businesses that fail to consider how they will be used by individuals who are blind or have limited mobility.     

Redbox’s recent settlement of a class action lawsuit brought by advocates for the blind highlights this thorny issue and the uncertain legal landscape surrounding self-service equipment designed for customer use.  Several blind individuals and an advocacy group sued Redbox because its DVD rental kiosks could not be independently used by non-sighted individuals.  After two years of litigation and mediation, the parties entered into a class settlement under which Redbox agreed to take the following steps for all Redbox locations in California:

  • incorporate audio guidance technology, a tactile keypad, and other accessibility features into its DVD rental kiosks so that blind customers can use them independently at one kiosk at every location within 18 months and at all California kiosks within 30 months;
  • provide 24-hour telephone assistance at each kiosk;
  • pay $1.2 M in damages to the class of aggrieved persons in California;
  • pay Lighthouse for the Blind $85K to test kiosks;
  • pay $10K to each named plaintiff in damages; and
  • pay $800K in plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees and costs.

Redbox also agreed to make certain accessibility improvements to its website but notably did not commit to meeting the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
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By Minh Vu and Paul Kehoe

As we reported earlier this month, the Department of Transportation (DOT) issued regulations under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACA) making it easier for airline passengers with disabilities to access both airline websites and terminal kiosks.  These regulations provide a window into the Administration’s view of website and kiosk accessibility, and likely serve as a precursor to forthcoming regulations from the Department of Justice (DOJ) on these subjects for state/local governments and public accommodations.  Since all agencies have an opportunity to review proposed regulations during the interagency review process, we assume that DOJ had input into the new DOT rules.  Here is a closer look at key parts of the new DOT regulations:

Basic Website Requirements.  Airlines that operate at least one aircraft having a seating capacity of more than 60 passengers must make their primary website accessible in two phases.  First, by December 12, 2015, they must ensure that web pages on their primary website associated with core travel information and services (reservations, online check-in, flight status updates, itinerary access, frequent flyer account access, carrier contact information, etc.) conform with WCAG 2.0 Level AA.  Second, by December 12, 2016, all other webpages on the airline’s primary website must conform with these guidelines. The regulations also require airlines to consult with individuals with visual, auditory, tactile and cognitive disabilities, or organizations representing these disability types to test the usability of the updated websites.  The DOT did not indicate what, if anything, covered airlines should be doing to facilitate access for those individuals who cannot use the websites in the meantime.

The regulations also require airlines to provide web-based fare discounts, which are generally offered at a lower cost, and other web-based amenities, to customers with disabilities who are unable to use the airline’s website.  Also, ticket agents that are not small businesses will be required to provide the same web-based fares to customers with a disability who cannot use the agents’ website as of June 10, 2014.
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