National Federation of the Blind Applauds Ruling in Scribd Case
Federal Court Denies Scribd’s Motion to Dismiss Lawsuit
Burlington, Vermont (March 20, 2015): The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the nation’s leading advocate for access by the blind to information and technology, today applauded a ruling issued by Judge William K. Sessions III of the United States District Court for the District of Vermont in a lawsuit filed by the NFB and Heidi Viens, a blind mother from Colchester, against Scribd, Inc. (case number: 2:14-CV-162). The court’s ruling denied Scribd’s motion to have the case dismissed. The lawsuit alleges violations of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Scribd had argued that the ADA did not apply because the company does not offer its services from a public physical location. Judge Sessions rejected this argument, ruling that Scribd’s services clearly fall within at least one category of public accommodations covered by the ADA. The ADA therefore covers the claim that Scribd’s failure to make its services available to blind people who access its website or mobile apps violates the law. A ruling that Scribd can discriminate against people with disabilities online but not at a public physical location, Judge Sessions said, would be an “absurd result” clearly at odds with the intent of the law.
“Now that the internet plays such a critical role in the personal and professional lives of Americans, excluding disabled persons from access to covered entities that use it as their principal means of reaching the public would defeat the purpose of this important civil rights legislation,” the court wrote.
Scribd offers an internet-based “personal digital library” that allows sighted subscribers to access a collection of over 40 million titles. For a monthly fee of $8.99, sighted subscribers gain unlimited access to this large collection through its website and apps, as well as other services, such as publishing their own work by uploading it to the Scribd collection and participating in social media features. The website and mobile apps that Scribd uses to provide its subscribers with access to electronic documents are not accessible to blind people. The blind use computers, smartphones, and tablets equipped with special software that allows the content of websites, mobile apps, and documents to be read aloud or displayed in Braille on a connected Braille device. When websites, mobile apps, or documents are not properly coded, they cannot be accessed with the technology used by the blind.
Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “We wholeheartedly applaud the court’s ruling, which recognizes that the Americans with Disabilities Act is a comprehensive civil rights law intended to prevent discrimination against the blind and others with disabilities and to promote our full and equal participation in all aspects of society. There can be no denying that full participation in the economy and society of the twenty-first century requires access to services provided over the internet. If blind people are denied such participation, we will be more segregated and isolated than we have ever been. Fortunately, the process of making internet services accessible to us is straightforward. We hope that Scribd will now focus on providing us access to its vast library of online books and documents rather than on seeking to deny it. We further hope that other companies will take the court’s message about the importance of accessibility to heart and make their online services accessible.”
The plaintiffs are represented in this matter by Laurence Paradis, Haben Girma, and Rebecca Rodgers of the firm Disability Rights Advocates; Daniel F. Goldstein and Gregory P. Care of the Baltimore firm Brown, Goldstein and Levy, LLP; and Emily J. Joselson of the Middlebury, Vermont firm Langrock Sperry & Wool, LLP.