A visually impaired and legally blind man has filed a class-action lawsuit against American Airlines claiming its website discriminates against people with visual impairments and is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act because the site can’t be easily interpreted by screen readers.
Alex Hernandez of Sonoma county filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California last week claiming that American Airlines continues to deny blind customers full and equal access to its website, preventing Hernandez from buying flights from American Airlines.
Like many people who are registered legally blind, the only way that Hernandez is able to access the internet is with the help of special screen reading software that speaks aloud the information on the screen. For this software to work, though, websites have to be set up correctly so that they can be read.
Hernandez says he has encountered “multiple access barriers” while trying to use the American Airlines website and the situation is so bad he isn’t able to get equal access to the site.
International website standards are set by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) which has published well-established guidelines for making websites accessible to blind and visually impaired people. The current guidelines haven’t, however, been formally adopted but Hernandez says that if American Airlines implemented the standards it would ensure its website was ADA compliant.
But as it stands, the lawsuit alleges that American Airlines has “engaged in acts of intentional discrimination” by constructing and maintaining a website that isn’t accessible to blind customers.
Hernandez last tried to access the American Airlines website earlier this year without success after many other failed attempts. He claims the aa.com website has never been accessible to blind people and hasn’t improved over the years.
The lack of screen reading ability of the website, it’s claimed, is a failure to make “reasonable modifications” under the ADA.
The lawsuit estimates that at least 10,000 customers in California could be affected by and Hernandez is asking a jury to award $4,000 in damages per customer for each offense. That could land American Airlines with a bill of at least $40 million.
The case continues. (Case number: 3:21-cv-05590-JSC).
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.