The Justice Department & the National Federation of the Blind have reached a settlement with the Sacramento Public Library Authority to resolve allegations that the library violated the ADA by using inaccessible Barnes & Noble NOOK electronic reader devices in a patron lending program.
People who have visual impairments are unable to access the Nook’s menus & controls through means other than a touch screen interface (that at present lacks audio and tactile feedback) and the devices’ lack of a text-to-speech function that turns e-content into speech. As a result of this agreement, the Library will no longer acquire any additional e-reader devices that are inaccessible for patron use when it either purchases new or replaces the inaccessible e-reader devices currently in circulation.
This is not an employment issue, but rather a lack of equal access to public programs, activities & services offered to patrons with disabilities by a public library. It’s important to note that requirements for public entities are even higher than for employment situations, especially when it comes to documentation. Employers can request documentation of disability under strict & limited conditions; however, libraries may not require proof of disability, including, for example, a doctor’s note, before loaning accessible e-reader devices to eligible patrons. However, the Library may require individuals who borrow the accessible e-reader devices to attest in writing that the accessible e-reader device is being borrowed by or for an eligible patron.
As we’ve seen in EEOC settlement agreements, the Justice Dept’s agreements also include a training requirement that is even more prescriptive than that required by the EEOC. In this particular settlement agreement, the Library must train: 1) all individuals acting on behalf of the Library (whether employees or volunteers) who interface with the public in any capacity and 2) individuals who have been, or may in the future be involved in, discussions or decisions regarding acquisition of technology for use by Library patrons. The Library also has to provide the Justice Dept. with the proposed training curriculum for approval and must adopt all changes made by the Dept. Furthermore, the Justice Dept. has the authority to approve the trainers that Library selects.
According to the American Library Association (ALA), there are nearly 17,000 public libraries in the U.S. In its most recent (2010) Public Library Survey, the Institute of Museum and Library Services reports visits to public libraries totaled 1.5 billion, or 5.1 library visits per capita. These numbers are continuing to rise, and the recession has spurred demand even further. Given these trends, the aging of America’s population, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, providing equal access to all is not only the right thing to do, but a necessary thing to do. Don’t wait until you need these accessible services. If your library needs assistance, encourage them to Springboard for more information.
This information should not be construed as “legal advice” for a particular set of facts or circumstances. It is intended only to be a practical guide for participants familiar with this subject. Users should seek appropriate legal advice tailored to address their specific situation.