Money Matters - Simplified

Wal-Mart sued over access barriers for wheelchair users

Citing discrimination against the physically challenged, the disability advocates alleged that the sale terminals at many of Wal-Mart’s stores in California were too high and beyond the reach of people in wheelchairs and scooters.

A legal advocacy group representing people with disabilities filed a class action lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in San Francisco federal court Wednesday, for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Citing discrimination against the physically challenged, the plaintiffs alleged that the sale terminals at many of Wal-Mart’s stores in California were too high and beyond the reach of people in wheelchairs and scooters.

Consequently wheelchairs users are at the mercy of cashiers to key in debit card pin numbers or sign their names to credit card purchases.

"Because many customers who use wheelchairs and scooters cannot easily view, reach and use Wal-Mart's [point-of-sale] terminals securely and independently, they must often process their transactions without knowing the information displayed on the POS viewscreen," said Kevin Knestrick of Berkeley-based Disability Rights Advocates.

The lawyers had first approached Wal-Mart to resolve access barriers in 2005. However after all endeavors for a structured settlement failed, the disability advocates sued the discount chain store.

Wheelchair users sue Wal-Mart
The complaint is filed in U.S. District Court in Northern California by Berkeley-based Center for Independent Living and wheelchairs users Janet Brown of Pittsburg and Lisa Kilgore of San Pablo.

Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund are representing the two disabled women.

"I feel unsafe when I check out at Wal-Mart," said plaintiff Janet Brown. "I can't reach the payment device on my own, read the display screen, enter my PIN or sign the screen to complete the transaction. I have to share my private PIN with the cashier, which I hate to do.”

The lawyers had first approached Wal-Mart to resolve access barriers in 2005. However after all endeavors for a structured settlement failed, the disability advocates sued the discount chain store.

The plaintiffs are seeking injunctive relief under the ADA as well as unspecified damages and the attorneys' fees.

"Wal-Mart's stubborn refusal to meet its customers' needs and provide point-of-sale terminals that consumers with disabilities can use independently goes directly against the central purpose and underlying intent of the ADA," said Knestrick in a statement.

Wal-Mart’s statement
Declining to comment on the lawsuit, the company spokesperson Ashley Hardie said the aim of Wal-Mart is that all of its check-out machines be "accessible within the regulations and guidelines of the ADA and California law."

She added, "Walmart takes it seriously any time questions or allegations are raised concerning our ADA compliance. We have a deep respect for all our associates and customers. And we are committed to serving those with disabilities.”