Adoption of Google Apps Program Discriminates Against the Blind

Baltimore, Maryland (March 15, 2011): The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind people in the United States, today requested that the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, investigate civil rights violations committed by New York University (NYU) and Northwestern University against blind faculty and students. The NFB made the request because the schools have adopted technology that is not accessible to the blind. Both universities have recently adopted Google Apps for Education as a means of providing e-mail and collaboration tools to students and faculty. Google Apps for Education is a free suite of hosted communication and collaboration applications that includes Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, Google Docs, and Google Sites. Each of these applications contains significant accessibility barriers for blind people utilizing screen access technology, which converts what is on the computer screen into synthesized speech or Braille. A similar request for investigation has been filed against four Oregon public school districts that are using Google Apps. The complaints allege violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. For further illustration of this matter, please view a demonstration of screen access technology used by the blind and the accessibility barriers that a blind person experiences using Google Apps.

Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “Given the many accessible options available, there is no good reason that these universities should choose a suite of applications, including critical e-mail services, that is inaccessible to blind students. Worse yet, according to recent data more than half of the American higher education institutions that are outsourcing e-mail to third-party vendors plan to deploy this suite, even though they know that it cannot be used by blind students. Nor can these universities claim ignorance of their legal obligations, since the United States Department of Justice and the United States Department of Education have specifically warned all university presidents against the adoption of inaccessible technology. The National Federation of the Blind will not tolerate this unconscionable discrimination against blind students and faculty and callous indifference to the right of blind students to receive an equal education. We urge these higher education institutions to suspend their adoption of Google Apps for Education until it is accessible to all students and faculty, not just the sighted, or to reject Google Apps entirely.”

The National Federation of the Blind is represented in this matter by Daniel F. Goldstein of the Baltimore firm Brown, Goldstein, and Levy.