Blind Agency Attorney Sues CBP Over Tech Access

Lawsuit claims years of inaccessible IT kept lawyer from promotion.

A blind attorney who works for the Homeland Security Department is suing his employer, which he said spent years pushing upgrades that interfered with his computer reading tools and made it impossible for him to do his work.

Michael Leiterman lost hours of work time after each upgrade, troubleshooting new workarounds with the Customs and Border Protection agency’s information technology staff, the lawsuit said. As a result, he was unable to devote work time to other duties and professional development and was denied promotions.

Leiterman has been a lawyer with CBP since 2006. He filed an internal complaint with the agency in 2011 but has not received an agency decision yet. He and his attorney filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in March.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires agencies to make internal and public-facing technology accessible to people with disabilities. Hyperlinks and Web images often confuse tools that read Web pages to the blind.

Leiterman was also assigned to a cubicle where the noise from nearby conversations made it difficult to hear the audio translations of documents and websites he accessed, according to the lawsuit. His supervisors allowed him to telecommute two days each week as a reasonable accommodation but this became nearly impracticable for over two years after CBP switched to a new system for remote access to its network in 2009.

The new system required logging into the CBP system with a key fob that generated a new access code with each use. The code was only available visually. As a result, Leiterman had to use his personal email to communicate with coworkers when he telecommuted and was shut off from receiving most new documents until he returned to the office.

Attempts to troubleshoot these technology failures also resulted in violations of Leiterman’s privacy he said. For instance, he frequently had to have long conversations with his supervisors and IT staff about accommodations for his disability in an open cubicle where coworkers could hear the conversation, the lawsuit said.

Homeland Security has not yet formally responded to the lawsuit.