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Debra Ruh

  Employability & Technology


United Airlines Discriminates Against Blind Passengers

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Chris Danielsen                                  Karla Gilbride
Director of Public Relations                 Staff Attorney
National Federation of the Blind           Disability Rights Advocates
(410) 659-9314, extension 2330           (510) 665-8644 ext. 11 (Office)
(410) 262-1281 (Cell)                          (202) 631-2426 (Cell)

United Airlines Discriminates Against Blind Passengers

National Federation of the Blind Files Suit Over Inaccessible Kiosks

San Francisco, California (October 25, 2010): The
National Federation of the Blind, the nation's
oldest and largest organization of blind people
and the leading advocate for accessible
technology, and three blind individuals-Michael
Hingson, Mike May, and Tina Thomas-who reside in
California and frequently fly United, filed a
class-action lawsuit today in the United States
District Court for the Northern District of
California against United Airlines. United uses
airport kiosks that employ touchscreen technology
in a manner such that they cannot be used by
blind passengers. Passengers who are able to use
the kiosks can access information about flights,
check in for flights, print tickets and boarding
passes, select seats, upgrade to United's
business or first class cabins, check baggage,
and perform other transactions relevant to their
air travel plans. The suit alleges that United is
violating the California Disabled Persons Act and
the Unruh Civil Rights Act because the services
it provides through these kiosks are not
available to blind passengers. United could
easily add an audio interface, a tactile
keyboard, or interactive screen reader technology
that works with touchscreens to its kiosks, as other companies have done.

Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National
Federation of the Blind, said: "The airline
industry has an unfortunate history of
discriminating against blind passengers, and now
United Airlines is repeating that history by
deploying inaccessible technology that we cannot
use. United is engaging in this blatant
discrimination even though the technology to make
its kiosks accessible is readily available, has
been deployed by others, and will involve little
cost to the company. Instead of enjoying the
features and convenience of these kiosks,
including a quicker and more convenient check-in
process, blind passengers must wait in long lines
at the ticket counter, even when they have
already purchased their tickets and checked in
online. We will not tolerate a separate and
unequal experience for blind passengers and
demand that United cease its discrimination against us as soon as

Michael Hingson, a blind motivational speaker and
president and owner of a technology sales
company, said: "I have traveled throughout the
United States and the world for my public
speaking engagements and as a technology sales
representative, yet I cannot independently check
in at the airport. It frustrates me, as a
frequent traveler and United passenger, that I
must wait for a United employee to assist me with
the kiosk, seek help from a sighted passenger (in
which case I must share sensitive private
information with a total stranger), or else stand
in a long line in order to complete the airport
check-in process. I hope that this lawsuit will
serve as a wake-up call to United and that the
airline will swiftly make its kiosks accessible."

Mike May, CEO of the Sendero Group, a leading
manufacturer of technology for the blind, said:
"I have been working in the adaptive technology
field for twenty years, and I know well that it
is easy and practical for United to make its
kiosks accessible. There is simply no excuse for
the long wait and inconvenience that other blind
United passengers and I continue to experience at airports."

Tina Thomas, a member of the United States
Paralympic Judo Team, said: "I find it extremely
ironic that United, which touts itself as the
official airline of the U.S. Paralympic Team,
discriminates against me as a member of that team
and as a blind person. I sincerely hope that
United will make a more serious and tangible
commitment to treating passengers with disabilities equally."

Plaintiffs are represented in this matter by
Daniel F. Goldstein and Gregory P. Care of the
Baltimore firm Brown, Goldstein, and Levy; and
Laurence W. Paradis, Karla Gilbride, and Kevin
Knestrick of the Berkeley firm Disability Rights Advocates.


About the National Federation of the Blind

With more than 50,000 members, the National
Federation of the Blind is the largest and most
influential membership organization of blind
people in the United States.  The NFB improves
blind people's lives through advocacy, education,
research, technology, and programs encouraging
independence and self-confidence.  It is the
leading force in the blindness field today and
the voice of the nation's blind.  In January 2004
the NFB opened the National Federation of the
Blind Jernigan Institute, the first research and
training center in the United States for the blind led by the blind.