Lawsuit Challenges Inaccessible Kiosks at Social Security Offices

fingers touching Braille symbols on a white sign

by Andy Jones
August 28, 2017

Amy Bonano went to her Social Security Administration office in Dayton, Ohio on February 24, 2017, for the purpose of reporting her wages.

She attempted to check in at a kiosk, known as a Visitor Intake Processing touchscreen, but the kiosk lacked Braille or audio instructions, a headphone jack or a keypad. Bonano is blind, and found she was unable to operate the touchscreen independently. To get assistance with using the kiosk, she divulged her Social Security number to a security guard.

The security guard proceeded to read her the wrong check-in number, forcing Bonano to request assistance from a random stranger, further compromising her safety and putting her at risk of identity theft.

According to a new complaint filed in federal court, Bonano’s experience at the SSA office is not unique. On August 28, the National Federation of the Blind, Bonano and one other individual plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the SSA, contending that its failure to provide accessible check-in kiosks violates Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

“The SSA needs to allow blind individuals the same privacy and independence afforded to anyone else visiting their offices,” said Autumn Elliott, a lawyer with Disability Rights California, which is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, in a news release [PDF]. “The SSA cannot allow check-in kiosks or other new technology to become barriers to access for people with disabilities.”

Under the Department of Justice’s regulations for Section 504, SSA is required to “take appropriate steps to ensure effective communication” and “furnish appropriate auxiliary aids where necessary to afford an individual with handicaps an equal opportunity” to participate in its program.”

The NFB first alerted the SSA to the problem in November 2015, but has been unable to reach a settlement, prompting the litigation.

“It is critical that blind people are afforded not only equal access to government services and information, but equal respect for their privacy as well,” said Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind, in the news release. “Forcing blind Social Security beneficiaries to divulge their social security numbers, which are portals to other sensitive personal and financial information, in the crowded reception areas of SSA field offices is not acceptable, and the National Federation of the Blind will not tolerate such unlawful discrimination.”

Attorneys from Brown Goldstein Levy and the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs are also assisting with the lawsuit.

The full complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, can be read here [PDF].

Disability Rights Washington and Disability Rights California are the designated protection and advocacy agencies in Washington and California, respectively, and members of the National Disability Rights Network.