Blind Employee Sues Beacon Health Options
Suit Says Inaccessible Technology Creates Barriers to Doing Her Job
Cambridge, Massachusetts (October 31, 2019): Amy Ruell, a blind licensed independent clinical social worker, is suing her employer, Beacon Health Options, because inaccessible software and online resources that it uses prevent her from doing critical parts of her job independently. Among other things, Ms. Ruell cannot fully participate in mandatory job trainings (although she is still tested on their content despite that fact), access patients’ clinical records in order to make accurate assessments and recommendations, or participate in virtual conferences with colleagues, the lawsuit says. Even when Ms. Ruell proposed accessible solutions, such as replacing the inaccessible virtual training and meeting platform WebEx with the accessible Zoom Video Communications, Beacon Health Options took four years to make that change and still has not remediated other inaccessible software, the suit alleges.
Like many other blind people, Ms. Ruell uses screen reader technology to access and interact with digital content and applications. This technology converts digital content into words spoken via synthesized speech or into Braille through a connected device called a refreshable Braille display. It also allows blind users to interact with content and applications using the computer keyboard instead of a mouse. Improperly coded websites and applications, however, do not convey the information this technology needs to properly interpret the content and layout of the site or application, do not permit actions to be taken via keystrokes instead of mouse clicks, or present other barriers to equal access. Because Ms. Ruell’s job involves working overnight from her home, she is particularly dependent on telephone and computer technology provided by Beacon Health Options.
Ms. Ruell’s lawsuit alleges that Beacon Health Options’ failure to use accessible technology and to otherwise reasonably accommodate her violate provisions of both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act. The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), America’s civil rights organization of the blind, is assisting in the litigation. Ms. Ruell is president of the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts and a member of the NFB’s national board of directors. She is represented by Christine M. Netski of the Boston firm Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen, P.C. and by Joseph B. Espo and Kevin D. Docherty of the Baltimore firm Brown Goldstein Levy LLP.
“Ms. Ruell is one of far too many blind people whose livelihoods or employment prospects are threatened by gratuitously inaccessible technology and we appreciate her courage in speaking out against these barriers,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “The problem of inaccessible technology is compounded when companies refuse to make reasonable accommodations for blind employees as required by law. The National Federation of the Blind will never hesitate to fight for blind workers who experience this flagrant and unlawful discrimination.”