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Apple sued over claims website is inaccessible to visually impaired users

Apple has become the target of a new lawsuit, one that claims the iPhone producer's website is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by not being fully accessible to blind or visually-impaired consumers, due to the way the website itself is coded.

Filed in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York on Sunday, the complaint from the plaintiff Himelda Mendez is said to be filed on behalf of other users in a similar accessibility situation. Apple is the sole defendant in the lawsuit.

According to the filing, Mendez is described as a "visually impaired and legally blind person" who uses screen-reading software to access the internet. The software is able to either read out information seen on the screen or outputs it to a refreshable Braille display, and typically relies on the website being constructed in ways that it can read the contents.

In the case of a website that isn't produced in this way, such as one that doesn't follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines from the World Wide Web Consortium, the readers may be unable to read content that could be useful for the user, or read it in an unintentional way that would be difficult to parse.

Mendez, said to be a proficient user of the Jobs Access With Speech (JAWS) screen reading program, visited the Apple website earlier this month but encountered "multiple access barriers" that denied "full and equal access to the facilities, goods, and services offered to the public," such as being able to browse and purchase products, make service appointments, or learn of the facilities available in Apple Stores in New York, the city where Mendez is resident.

The filing provides a long list of issues with the website that it believes needs fixing, in order to comply with the ADA, in relation to screen readers. The list includes the lack of alternative text for graphics, empty links containing no text, redundant links, and linked images missing alternative text.

It is asserted these issues caused a denial of "full and equal access" to the plaintiff, deterring future use of the site in the process. If it were fully accessible, the filing believes those using screen-reading software would be able to independently navigate the site and perform the same transactions as those with sight.

It is also alleged the lack of compliance with WCAG 2.0 guidelines means Apple has "engaged in acts of intentional discrimination," under the belief the site was not produced with visually-impaired individuals in mind, nor has it been corrected.

The suit demands a permanent injunction requiring Apple to retain a qualified consultant to help the company comply with WCAG 2.0 guidelines for the site, including training its web developers on accessibility compliance, regularly checking the site's compliance, regular testing by blind and visually-impaired users, and the development of an accessibility policy posted on all of its websites. Also sought are "compensatory damages in an amount to be determined by proof, including all applicable statutory and punitive damages and fines," plus legal fees incurred by the filer.

AppleInsider has asked Apple for comment, and will provide an update if there is a response.

Apple prides itself on including accessibility features in its products, highlighting them in marking Global Accessibility Awareness Day each year. The company has also worked with other companies and organizations in producing accessibility aids, including developing a hearing implant sound processor with Cochlear, and participating in the USB Implementers Forum to produce a new interface standard for braille displays.