Section 508 complaint process makes lawsuits unlikely

One of the spurs last year to agency compliance with Section 508 was the threat'real or imagined'of lawsuits.

'Everyone was really terrified of getting sued,' said Ken Nakata, a lawyer in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.

But there have been no lawsuits against agencies or their managers for not complying with Section 508, which, Nakata said, is not surprising. The absence of lawsuits does not mean there have been no complaints. It's just that the complaint process is designed to solve problems and avoid court. 'Chances are, fixes are going to be done quickly and quietly,' Nakata said.

Complaints first are handled within an agency. 'If [complainants] don't get a resolution at the agency level, they can up the ante'basically file a complaint in federal court,' Nakata said. But they are not entitled to damages even if they win a lawsuit, and they can only file after they've exhausted administrative remedies, Nakata said.

The only thing a plaintiff gets by winning a suit is a fix of the inaccessible system. And because a lawsuit would also cost the plaintiff money, 'there isn't a huge incentive to sue an agency,' Nakata said.

Complainants also can file under Section 501, which addresses workers who cannot do their jobs without an adjustment, technological or otherwise. '501 is a major factor in this,' Nakata said.

Citizens also have recourse under Section 504, under which a plaintiff can, for instance, claim inability to use a Web site because of lack of accessibility at a kiosk or a stamp machine, he said.

Nakata said plaintiffs have to overcome a critical hurdle if they want to win a lawsuit citing Section 501.

Section 501 applies if a person can't work because of an inaccessible system, and a supervisor has refused to accommodate the worker. In such a case, Nakata said, 'all of a sudden IT is one little facet in the grand scheme.'

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