On the 26th Anniversary of the ADA, New York City’s Free Tech Revolution Blatantly Excludes The Blind

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July 28, 2016 – New York, NY – LinkNYC, touted as a “first-of-its-kind communication network,” has been rolled out on New York City’s sidewalks for use by all but the blind.  Each individual “Link” promises residents and visitors in New York City the ability to surf the internet on a touchscreen tablet, to make local and long distance phone calls, and to call emergency services via a dedicated 911 button.  Yet, as detailed in a lawsuit filed today in federal court, people who are blind cannot use the Links independently.

The City and its partner CityBridge LLC, a NYC-based consortium of several technology companies, failed to equip the individual “Links” with readily available software and hardware that would allow blind people to utilize the broad range of services now available free of charge to others.  Links have already been installed along 3rd and 8th Avenues in Manhattan, with the goal of replacing the City’s 7,500 pay phones with Links citywide over the next several years.

Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a national nonprofit legal center, brings this suit on behalf the National Federation of the Blind and several blind New York City residents who have been unable to access the Links.  DRA is co-counseling with Brown, Goldstein & Levy of Baltimore, MD.

“Considering that LinkNYC is such an innovative program, it is astounding that the City and this private consortium of tech companies failed to build accessibility into the Links from the start,” stated Michelle Caiola, Managing Attorney at DRA’s New York office.  “There is no temporary exception in the ADA for rollout phases of new programs that exclude hundreds of thousands of people,” she continued.  “People with disabilities should not be an afterthought.”

One plaintiff, Mindy Jacobsen, a blind individual who is an instructor on how to use computers to those losing their vision, was recently unable to access any of LinkNYC’s features.  “I am an experienced user of computer accessibility features such as TalkBack,” she explained, “and while these Links have an audio jack, there are no audio instructions to follow for access. A blind person cannot even use the 911 emergency buttons unless they have help.”

Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said:  “By treating accessibility as an afterthought, New York City is discriminating against its blind citizens and relegating them to second-class status. The blind cannot even use this new technology in an emergency. This is shameful conduct on the part of the most populous and high-profile city in the United States, and the National Federation of the Blind will not tolerate this artificial limit on our participation.”

The suit seeks an immediate end to the installation of inaccessible Links and for existing Links to be fixed.  A copy of the Complaint is available below.

About Disability Rights Advocates (DRA)
Disability Rights Advocates is one of the leading non-profit disability rights legal centers in the nation.  With offices in Berkeley and New York City, DRA’s mission is to advance equal rights and opportunities for people with all types of disabilities nationwide.  DRA represents people with the full spectrum of disabilities in complex, system-change, class action cases.  July 2016 marks the 26th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  DRA is proud to have upheld the promise of the ADA since our inception.  Thanks to DRA’s precedent-setting work, people with disabilities across the country have dramatically improved access to health care, employment, transportation, education, disaster preparedness planning, voting and housing.  For more information, visit www.dralegal.org.

About National Federation of the Blind (NFB)
The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back. For more information, visit http://nfb.org.

Contacts

Seth Packrone, Fellowship Attorney, (212) 644-8644
Michelle Caiola, Managing Attorney, (212) 644-8644
Chris Danielsen, National Federation of the Blind, (410) 262-1281