WASHINGTON - The National Federation of the Blind filed two lawsuits Wednesday, charging discrimination by Chevy Chase Bank in Maryland, the ATM manufacturer Diebold, and the drugstore chain Rite Aid Corp.
With the Disability Rights Council of Greater Washington and various individuals as co-plaintiffs, the federation's suit against the bank alleged that it's automated teller machines violate the Americans with Disabilities Act because blind customers cannot see the computer screen that lists customer options.
Filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the suit singles out Chevy Chase because many of its ATMs are in major tourist or business areas.
The second lawsuit, against Diebold and Rite Aid, makes similar charges. Diebold recently announced a deal to install and operate ATMs in Rite Aid stores nationwide.
"We're bringing these suits because it is not right - it is not fair - that if you're sighted, you have many opportunities, but if you're blind, you have to wait," said the federation president, Dr. Marc Maurer.
Daniel F. Goldstein, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said additional lawsuits against other banks and ATM makers may be filed. "If other banks and ATM makers don't start installing" machines that accommodate blind people, "I wouldn't be surprised if Dr. Maurer asked me to file more suits because there's no excuse now," said Mr. Goldstein.
Last year the Disabilities Law Project, a public interest group in Philadelphia, sued what were then named Mellon Bank Corp. and PNC Bank Corp, both of Pittsburgh, over ATM functionality for blind people. Settlement talks are continuing in that case, according to PNC.
Wells Fargo & Co., Bank of America Corp., and Citigroup Inc. have begun installing talking ATMs on the West Coast, according to Mr. Goldstein.
Nessa Feddis, senior federal counsel for the American Bankers Association, defended the industry.
"The task is not as simple as it might appear," she said. "Some audio technology is currently available but cannot be fully implemented yet. Depending on the network, company, and type of ATM, there are a variety of options that determine whether audio is feasible."