Blind Students Sue Over Online Law School Applications

National Federation of the BlindThe Chronicle of Higher Education reported that three law students and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) are suing four law schools in California claiming that the online application system is not accessible to students who are blind (Blind Students Sue Law Schools Over Online Applications). Specifically, the online application lives at the web site of the Law School Admission Council. The four colleges drive applicants to this web site to complete online applications. The first version of this suit started in February 2009 with the NFB and one student suing the admission council, but was just modified to add more plaintiffs and defendants. NFB issued a press release on Wednesday outlining its position.

The outcome of this case may be closely watched, since there is a lack of case law that defines how ADA and Section 508 compliance can and should be implemented. Given the regular debate between web developers and accessibility advocates about the nuances of the meaning and application of assorted web technologies to achieve maximum accessibility within a web site.

Back in 2008, many of us watched the lawsuit between Target and NFB for just such an example of case law. Instead, they settled the lawsuit and NFB walked away at least $200,000 richer. As it is, Target was really only accountable for making the site more accessible to the blind, not all users. The WebAIM Blog (Target lawsuit settled) outlines some of the reasons that lawsuit didn’t do much to advance accessibility compliance or understanding, certainly not past providing for the blind.

Prior cases that started off as high profile (in the world of accessibility) such as the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games’ (SOCOG) 2000 Olympic web site and America Online (its software more than its web site) were also settled without clear direction for accessibility practitioners. In both of these cases, the complaints were also filed by blind users and changes were made that in retrospect are almost laughably easy (they were then, too) such as adding alt attributes to image tags.

Given the prior history that these cases settle, and given that NFB might be more motivated (based on the pay-outs from the Target case) to settle than to use this as case law for the rest of the web, I don’t expect to see anything terribly useful coming from this case. Even if it did, it will still likely only address accessibility for the blind, leaving other disabilities out of any potentially useful case law.

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