Wal-Mart Discriminates Against Wheelchair and Scooter Users by Refusing to Provide Accessible Point-Of-Sale Machines

San Francisco, CA – July 25, 2012 –  A class action lawsuit filed today against leading national retailer Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (Wal-Mart) in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California challenges Wal-Mart’s continuing practice of knowingly placing point-of-sale machines beyond the reach and accessibility of people with disabilities who use wheelchairs and scooters.  The lawsuit is the first of its kind in the country and is filed nearly 22 years to the day after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the country’s landmark law guaranteeing people with disabilities the equal opportunity to participate in all aspects of our nation’s society and economy, including shopping with dignity and respect.

The Center for Independent Living, Inc., a disability service organization based in Berkeley, California, and two individuals with mobility disabilities, filed the case to address a widespread problem that impacts core concerns for wheelchair and scooter users, such as independence and privacy, at point-of-sale terminals.  Plaintiffs are represented by Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) and Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), two non-profit disability rights legal centers that specialize in high-impact cases on behalf of people with disabilities, and the civil rights law firm Lewis Feinberg Lee Renaker & Jackson P.C.

Plaintiff Janet Brown is a wheelchair user and resident of Pittsburgh, California.  She explains, “I feel unsafe when I check out at Wal-Mart.  I can’t reach the payment device on my own, read the display screen, enter my PIN or sign the screen to complete the transaction.  I have to share my private PIN with the cashier, which I hate to do,” said Ms. Brown.

Wal-Mart’s refusal to provide point-of-sale machines at accessible heights makes it extremely difficult or impossible for wheelchair and scooter users to independently and privately pay for goods using a credit or debit card.  This creates barriers for many people with disabilities who cannot easily and independently process their purchase transactions at Wal-Mart stores – a basic activity of daily life for many in our country.  It also puts many customers with mobility disabilities in vulnerable situations as they must disclose their confidential PIN to cashiers or rely on others to verify and authorize payments during check-out transactions.  In addition, to finalize transactions, some customers with disabilities even have to rely on cashiers to provide a signature on the point-of-sale machine. Disability organizations and consumers with disabilities have alerted Wal-Mart to these issues for years, but Wal-Mart refuses to make the changes necessary to ensure its point-of-sale machines are readily accessible and usable by individuals with disabilities, as required by the ADA.

“It is offensive to me and every citizen who uses a mobility device that more than 20 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act, we continue to be shut out and denied equal access to basic retail services,” said Yomi Wrong, Executive Director of the Center for Independent Living Inc. “People with disabilities shop.  This is not news.  But Wal-Mart, which purports to be America’s go-to place to ‘save money and live better,’ apparently doesn’t believe that dignity, respect and equal access for people who use wheelchairs and scooters are important core values.”

“Wal-Mart’s stubborn refusal to meet its customers’ needs and provide point-of-sale terminals that consumers with disabilities can use independently goes directly against the central purpose and underlying intent of the ADA,” said Kevin Knestrick of Disability Rights Advocates, who represents Plaintiffs.

“Point-of-sale machines are the wave of the future in American retail. They should be accessible, convenient and secure to use for all customers.  Wal-Mart should be an industry leader, not a defender of discrimination,” said Bill Lann Lee, Plaintiffs’ attorney of Lewis Feinberg Lee Renaker & Jackson P.C.

DREDF attorney Arlene Mayerson of Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund adds, “In addition to causing humiliation and physical discomfort as the price of doing business, Wal-Mart is putting an already vulnerable population for identity theft at further risk by making wheelchair users announce their PIN in a public check-out line.”

In today’s challenging economy, Americans are shopping in increasing numbers at stores such as Wal-Mart, which offer a combination of wide selection, low prices, convenience and affordability.  As the industry leader among big box retailers, Wal-Mart’s business model has met unparalleled success, recording more than $310 billion in sales in the United States in the last year alone.

In California alone, there are over 300,000 people who use wheelchairs and scooters, numbers that are expected to increase substantially over the coming decade.

About the Center for Independent Living, Inc. (CIL)
The Center for Independent Living, Inc. provides services, support and advocacy to enhance the rights and abilities of people with disabilities to actively participate in their communities and lead self-determined lives. CIL encourages people with disabilities to make their own choices and works to open doors in the community to full participation and access for all. www.cilberkeley.org

About Disability Rights Advocates (DRA)
Disability Rights Advocates is a non-profit legal center which, for nearly twenty years, has specialized in high-impact class action litigation on behalf of people with all types of disabilities.  DRA litigates nationally and has offices in New York City and Berkeley, California.  dralegal.org.

About Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF)
Founded in 1979, by people with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) is a national law and policy center, based in Berkeley, CA, dedicated to protecting and advancing the civil rights of people with disabilities. www.dredf.org.

About Lewis Feinberg Lee Renaker & Jackson P.C.
Lewis, Feinberg, Lee, Renaker & Jackson P.C. is a national law firm based in Oakland, CA, that represents plaintiffs in civil rights litigation, wage and hour overtime litigation, and ERISA employee benefit and pension litigation. www.lewisfeinberg.com.

Kevin Knestrick, Attorney, Disability Rights Advocates
(510) 665-8644

Arlene Mayerson, Directing Attorney, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
(510) 644-2555

Bill Lann Lee, Attorney, Lewis Feinberg Lee Renaker & Jackson P.C.
(510) 839-6824