Oracle sued for failing blind users

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Oracle sued for failing blind users

US National Federation of the Blind takes up fight against database giant.

Oracle was today accused of failing to produce software that is accessible to blind users.

The US National Federation of the Blind and three blind State of Texas employees filed a lawsuit against the database giant in a bid to enforce the provision of Texas law requiring all IT purchased by the state to be accessible to blind employees.

The legal attack came after the State authorities bought Oracle to replace another software package that had, in large part, been accessible to blind users.

Dr Marc Maurer, president of the US National Federation of the Blind, said: "Access to IT is critical to success on the job for everyone in the 21st century, and this is no less true for the blind than it is for the sighted.

"The National Federation of the Blind is committed to improving access to all IT, and we will take all steps necessary to do so, including litigation."

Tommy Craig, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas, added: "The state legislature of Texas recognised the need for equal access for the blind by passing a law requiring it, and it is unconscionable that a state agency is violating that law.

"The National Federation of the Blind of Texas will not rest until all of the employees of the state of Texas have equal access to all the information they need to function effectively."

The suit names as defendants the directors of the Health and Human Services Commission and the Texas Workforce Commission (the agencies for which the blind employees work) and the state's acting chief technology officer.

The action arises from the state's continuing renewal of contracts to purchase Oracle's human resources software and other products "despite the fact that the software cannot be used by blind Texas employees".

The plaintiffs have asked a Texas court to require the software to be made accessible to the blind and to require that the state discontinue its purchases of inaccessible software.

Blind people access computer software by means of screen access programs, which convert what is on the screen into synthesised speech or allow it to be displayed in Braille.

The Oracle software, which is used by state employees for various human resources tasks, does not provide equal access to blind persons using screen access technology, according to the suit.

Edwin Kunz, one of the blind plaintiffs who directs a rehabilitation centre for the blind within the Health and Human Services Commission's Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, said: "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 cannot 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 have 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."
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