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ADA Transit Case Seeks Accessible Web Remedy 

by Cynthia D. Waddell, J.D.

Published in the Disability Compliance Bulletin® and National Disability Law Reporter® Volume 24, Issue 8, October 31, 2002


In November 2001, six plaintiffs, including Fulton County Magistrate Judge Stephanie Davis, filed a class action in federal court against the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority .  Represented by attorneys for the nonprofit Disability Law and Policy Center and cooperating counsel from the Decatur, Ga., law firm Hill, Lord and Beasley, plaintiffs sought injunctive and declaratory relief under the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  Three plaintiffs are blind, one plaintiff has cerebral palsy and requires a wheelchair for mobility and two plaintiffs are quadriplegics who also require wheelchairs for mobility.

Having withdrawn their motion to certify a class, the plaintiffs in Martin v. MARTA were granted a preliminary injunction earlier this month, and the parties were directed to confer in good faith to agree upon a remedies order tailored to address the ADA violations.  Plaintiffs allege a long list of ADA transportation and effective communication violations including:

·         Failing to make information available to people with disabilities through accessible formats and technology.

·         Failing to ensure that transit personnel, such as customer service representatives and bus drivers, are adequately trained to serve riders with disabilities, and to serve them in a respectful and courteous manner.

·         Failing to maintain wheelchair lifts and other features of vehicles that make them accessible to people with disabilities and failing to have a system in place for alternative means of transportation when equipment is not operating correctly.

·         Failing to announce stops at transfer points, major intersections and destinations, particularly when a request is made by a visually impaired rider.

·         Failing to provide paratransit services comparable to the level of service provided to persons without disabilities using MARTA’s fixed route system.

While all the allegations are serious, of particular interest is the first allegation that MARTA failed to provide information about their services through accessible formats and technology. 

“Under the ADA, MARTA has a duty to provide bus route and transit information in an accessible format, said Anil Lewis, chairman of the board of directors for the Disability Law and Policy Center of Georgia.  “MARTA claims that since the information is on their web site, then it must be accessible.  They have a lack of knowledge about what it means to have an accessible web site and this is why it is so integral that MARTA partner with the disability community in the provision of services.”

MARTA’s web developer testified by affidavit that the web site at www.ITSMARTA.com provides the general public with extensive information on the routes and schedules for its fixed route services.  However, it is not yet formatted in such a way to make it accessible to persons who are blind.  He stated that MARTA is in the process of developing a plan to modify its web site so that route and scheduling information can be displayed in an alternative, plain text format easily read by assistive computer technology.

If MARTA were informed about the federal Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards as well as the international technical standards developed by industry consensus, MARTA would not embark on a plain text format as the solution.  Technical standards for accessible web design provide solutions that benefit not only people who are blind and visually impaired, but also people with mobility, hearing, and to some extent, cognitive disabilities.  There is not room in this article to also discuss the business benefits extending beyond this community: enabling people with slow modems, those without a computer, or those accessing web content using alternate Internet devices such as cell phones or personal digital assistants.

One plaintiff testified that although he has never received Braille material as requested, MARTA told him that they would only provide it if he indicated the specific trip date, departure time and location, and destination.  MARTA testified that individual Brailled schedules would be provided as requested, but that it was not feasible, practical or cost effective to provide the entire 190-route bus service schedule in Braille. 

If content on the web was posted in an accessible format, people who are blind or low vision using refreshable Braille displays, text browsers or screen readers would be able to read all the significant content on the web site – not just the schedule information.  A limited accessibility review by this author of the MARTA website confirms many violations of the technical standards for web accessibility so this option is not available.  Effective communication through accessible web technology should be on every attorney’s checklist for remedy review. 

It is no wonder that the Court held that MARTA violates the ADA mandate of ‘making adequate communications capacity available, through accessible formats and technology, to enable users to obtain information and schedule service.’”

Reprinted with permission from Disability Compliance Bulletin® and National Disability Law® Reporter. Copyright 2002 by LRP Publications, 747 Dresher Rd, PO Box 980, Horsham, PA 19044-1980. All rights reserved. Click on the LRP Publications icon below and visit our web site for more information on these and other products; or call us toll-free at 1-800-341-7874, ext. 347.

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