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Brown website accused of violating Americans with Disabilities Act

Class action complaint seeks to make website accessible to visually-impaired users

The suit argues that the University’s website and online retail store violate Title III of the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and antidiscrimination laws in New York, where the complaint was filed.
The suit argues that the University’s website and online retail store violate Title III of the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and antidiscrimination laws in New York, where the complaint was filed.

A class action complaint filed Sept. 23 claims that some of the University’s websites, including the athletics website and the campus shop website, violate the Americans with Disabilities Act by not being fully compatible with computer screen-reading programs. 

Plaintiff Milagros Senior — who is legally blind and requires screen-reading programs to access web content — claimed she faced multiple access barriers when trying to view information about Brown sports teams and purchase a product on the University’s websites, according to court documents.

The suit argues that the University’s website and online retail store violate Title III of the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and antidiscrimination laws in New York, where the complaint was filed.

Senior, represented by Gottlieb & Associates, is asking the court to certify a nationwide class of all legally blind individuals in the United States who have attempted to access the University’s website, as well as a subclass of such individuals in New York.

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The complaint lists access barriers such as a lack of alternative text, invisible code under images that screen-reading software uses to vocally describe graphics; empty links that contain no text and redundant links going to the same URL address, which can have unclear functions or require additional navigation; and multiple pages with the same title elements, which may prevent visually impaired users from distinguishing pages.

The complaint also alleges that the website contains broken links to non-existent or empty webpages, which can be “especially paralyzing” for the visually impaired as they may be unable to determine where they are on the website once they reach an error page.

As relief, Senior requests that the court grant injunctions requiring the University to make its website fully compliant with ADA requirements and a declaration that the University’s website discriminates against the blind. Senior also requests compensatory damages, an award of costs of the action and attorneys’s fees.

“As part of its larger commitment to achieving equitable experiences for individuals with disabilities, Brown University maintains a Strategic Action Plan for Web Accessibility,” University spokesperson Brian Clark wrote in an email to The Herald. “That plan enables the University to work in an ongoing way to fulfill its commitment that users who have disabilities, whether visual, auditory or other, have equitable and effective access to information on Brown’s website.”

According to Clark, Senior is unaffiliated with the University. He added that there have been more than a dozen similar cases filed against universities across the country. 

“We are reviewing the complaint in full and considering our options for response through the legal process,” Clark added.

Correction: A previous version of this story mistakenly said that Senior filed similar cases against other universities. In fact, these cases are not affiliated with Senior. The Herald regrets the error.

Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify that the allegations in the lawsuit focus on some, not all, of the websites associated with the University.

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Caleb Lazar

Caleb Lazar is the senior editor of data desk for The Brown Daily Herald's 133rd Editorial Board.



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