National Federation of the Blind claims discrimination by airline kiosk

The National Federation of the Blind issued a press release this morning, with the headline United Airlines Discriminates Against Blind Passengers.

That is obviously the kind of headline that is designed to grab some attention. In it, the federation claims United Airlines is discriminating by making their electronic check-in kiosks inaccessible to blind passengers.

The President of the federation has the following to say:

The airline industry has an unfortunate history of discriminating against blind passengers, and now United Airlines is repeating that history by deploying inaccessible technology that we cannot use. United is engaging in this blatant discrimination even though the technology to make its kiosks accessible is readily available, has been deployed by others, and will involve little cost to the company.

Now, I’m really not sure what to make of this – because it isn’t like the electronic kiosk is the only way to check-in at the airport. One of the arguments made by the NFB is that the lines for checking in with an employee are very long.

Every time I’ve used EasyCheck-In, there have been United employees in close proximity, ready to help me out. Converting the kiosks would require audio feedback, special keyboards and modifications to the screens – all to accomplish something that is possible by requesting a staff member to assist.

I’m not an expert, but I just don’t buy the claim that modifications would involve little cost to the company. ATM’s have been modified for blind users, but the amount of information presented on the screen of a check-in kiosk is quite complex – with things like a seat map and security questions.

The time it would take to have this all presented in audio would most likely make waiting in line much quicker anyway. Also, the risk of making a mistake during this procedure could quickly turn into a real mess, changing flights, canceling segments or removing upgrades. And finally, there is no obligation to use these machines at the airport – as almost every airline in the country offers the ability to check-in online at home, and print your own boarding pass.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for helping blind passengers make the experience at the airport just as swift as offered to anyone else, but I can’t help feel that this battle is one that they won’t win. To read the entire press release, click here.

What are your thoughts?


[Photo from Flickr/Dennis]