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NFB alleges Oracle Human Resources software is not blind-friendly

Because you have the right to my opinion

According to this article, National Federation for the Blind (NFB) members in Texas are suing again, claiming that the Oracle Human Resources software does not meet the Texas State accessibility requirements for the blind.  The NFB is a blind organization that represents less than 10% of the USA blind population.

BC has published our notes about ADA compliance for Oracle systems, and we have noted that Oracle has been a leader in blind compliance, publishing useful standards for Oracle system accessibility. 

The press release does not provide details, but it appears that this site is using "Jaws", a popular tool to speak-out written text from screens, and that the software deliberately disabled Jaws for privacy reasons, for their payroll and job performance review functions.

It looks like a no-win to me.  If they enable Jaws, bystanders might hear private information, and it they don't use Jaws, the blind folks cannot use the screens . . . . 

Oracle becomes a target

With the announcement of this lawsuit, Oracle Corporation joins the ranks of other successful companies that have become a deep-pockets target for the NFB sue-ers:

  • Diebold - The manufacturer of Automatic Teller Machines ( ATMs) was sued by the NFB because their ATM machines were not usable by the blind. In a settlement, Diebold agreed to donate $1,000,000.00 to the NFB and agreed to equip ATM?s with voice-guidance capabilities.
  • America Online ? AOL was sued by the NFB and nine blind people because they were unable to use AOL without the assistance of a sighted person. In a landmark decision, U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz said the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies only to physical spaces, such as restaurants and movie theaters, and not to the Internet.
  • Target Stores - The NFB filed a lawsuit against Target, alleging that their web site is inaccessible to the blind.  A Northern California Federal judge ruled that "a retailer may be sued if its website is inaccessible to the blind".

The remedies for blind people include the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (For Federal Government computer systems), and in this case, a Texas State law mandating accessibility for Texas government computer systems.

The announcement of the NFB lawsuit against Oracle suggests that it is possible that a complex computer system can be made accessible to people who cannot see.  They also cite this alleged complaint about Oracle HR software by a blind person:

""I am unable to review and enter information such as my hours worked and leave taken unless a sighted person helps me to do so. Even worse, I can't access critical information about the employees that I supervise without the assistance of a sighted person.

Because I must have sighted assistance for all of these personnel functions, both my privacy and the privacy of my employees are routinely violated. I've complained about the problems with the software, but nothing has been done to fix them.

I hope this lawsuit will spur Oracle to move quickly to correct this problem; otherwise the state will have to purchase human resources software from someone else."

Computer system compliance and the ADA

There is a great debate about whether a corporate computer system is covered under the ADA, and further disagreement about whether web sites are a "place of public accommodation", as defined in the ADA.

However, other Federal regulations for government employees mandate accessibility to government computer systems by the blind.  The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 contains an important sub-section commonly referred to as Section 508. The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) is a task group charged with interpreting the ramifications of ADA and Section 508. The ITAA includes a representative from Oracle Corporation, and they published a prediction of the increasing scope of Section 508:

?At first blush, the Section 508 issue may appear to be limited to the federal procurement process. ITAA and its Task Group believe that changes in Federal procurement standards will ultimately affect the broader consumer software and technology market as well.

The ultimate regulations promulgated under Section 508 will be adopted by many states in their procurement processes as well as most educational institutions receiving funds from the U.S. Department of Education.?

Oracle's commitment to blind Accessibility

Oracle appears to be very serious about accessibility for the blind and Oracle has published a highly-detailed whitepaper titled ?Accessibility in Oracle Forms Applications? in 2002 that states guidelines for Oracle development using Oracle tools.

Federal Law and Oracle Internet Systems

With the requirement to make in-house Oracle systems accessible, many blind advocacy groups such as the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) are attempting to stretch the ADA laws to cover internet web pages and corporate computer systems.  




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