recommended reading

Lawsuit Says GSA Discriminates Against Blind Contractors

Ververidis Vasilis/

A group of blind federal contractors filed a lawsuit against the General Services Administration this week over a contractor website they say shuts out the visually impaired.

The System for Award Management website,, contains numerous buttons, checkboxes, drop-down menus and “mouseovers” that federal contractors must navigate each year in order to keep their contractor status current. Those bells and whistles make it difficult or impossible for screen reading software that blind people use to navigate the Internet to decode the site, the suit claims.

GSA phone-in help desk employees are also not sufficiently trained in disability issues, the suit claims, making it even more difficult for blind contractors to complete their registrations.

The suit was filed as a class action by the American Council for the Blind and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The groups claim GSA violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which, among other things, bars discrimination against federal contractors and grantees based solely on a disability.

There are three named plaintiffs who are helping to pursue the lawsuit. They’re all contractors who had difficulty registering or re-registering on Eventually two of the three had to reveal personal information, such as usernames and Social Security numbers, to either friends or GSA help desk employees in order to complete their registrations.

“It would be one thing if [the Environmental Protection Agency’s] website wasn’t compliant with screen reader software,” Matthew Handley, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told Nextgov. “But this is all the more troubling because this is the agency that’s supposed to be policing all the other agency websites and it doesn’t appear to be policing its own websites.”

GSA had not responded by 5 p.m. Thursday to Nextgov emails and phone calls seeking comment.

GSA manages a large portion of civilian federal contracting for other government agencies and publishes best practices guides for federal digital technology. The American Council for the Blind spent about a year urging GSA to make accessible, Handley said. When those changes weren’t sufficient, he said, they filed suit.  

“We’d just sort of reached a dead end with them and decided we didn’t have any way to push this along without resorting to the court system,” he said.

The council hasn’t done a full investigation but suspects there may be accessibility issues with other federal contracting websites such as the Federal Business Opportunities site,, Handley said. The organizations hope that drawing attention to’s accessibility issues will press GSA and other agencies to fix other websites, he said.

The groups are asking a federal judge to order GSA to make accessible and to reimburse their attorneys’ fees. The plaintiffs cannot seek damages under the statute.

GSA has 60 days to formally respond to the lawsuit.

(Image via Ververidis Vasilis/

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • It’s Time for the Federal Government to Embrace Wireless and Mobility

    The United States has turned a corner on the adoption of mobile phones, tablets and other smart devices, outpacing traditional desktop and laptop sales by a wide margin. This issue brief discusses the state of wireless and mobility in federal government and outlines why now is the time to embrace these technologies in government.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.