by Valerie Yingling
From the Editor: Valerie Yingling works for us as our legal program coordinator. She has good name recognition within the National Federation of the Blind because reports given at state conventions strongly encourage contacting her about legal matters in which we are involved or those in which a member believes we should be. Here is what Valerie writes about a most troubling trend that is emerging as an impediment to blind people finding employment:
Last summer, with support from the National Federation of the Blind, Ronit Mazzoni filed a disability discrimination suit against her prospective employer Myriad Genetics. In her lawsuit, Ronit asserted that Myriad refused to hire her because she is blind and requires the use of screen access software. Myriad had determined that its proprietary software was inaccessible with JAWS screen reading software and based its decision to not hire Ronit on this factor alone.
Too often, the National Federation of the Blind receives reports from members regarding employers who make job offers contingent on whether their software is compatible with JAWS or other screen access software. As in Ronit’s experience, blind applicants must often unfairly wait for a job offer or assigned start date while the employer purports to evaluate its software for accessibility.
Employers that require applicants with disabilities to be able to use designated workplace software without any accommodations do so in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and many other laws. The ADA prohibits employers from denying employment opportunities to individuals with disabilities when the denial is based on the need to provide reasonable accommodations.1 The ADA similarly prohibits employers from applying selection criteria that screens out individuals with disabilities unless such criteria are job-related.2 As Ronit’s complaint notes, though “software may be job-related, the inaccessibility of such software certainly is not job-related, nor can it be consistent with business necessity.”3
CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software and other prevalent workplace software can be built to be accessible. In situations where it is not accessible, the software can almost always be scripted so that it is compatible with JAWS or other screen access software. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides guidance regarding the interactive dialogue that should occur between an employer and job applicant when accommodations are needed. Ronit knew all of this when she applied for the TeleGenetics counselor position with Myriad Genetics in May 2017.
As a TeleGenetics counselor, Ronit would provide remote genetic counseling services for clients. Ronit was excited about the position with Myriad because it would offer her the opportunity to work from home and allow her to spend more time with her husband and young children. Ronit is a qualified and experienced genetics counselor, having obtained her master of science in Genetic Counseling and having already worked for nine years in the field.
Ronit had previously encountered accessibility barriers in her field and was undeterred. When she was first expected to draw a pedigree, a visual representation of her patients’ family medical history, she asked her husband, a software developer, to write a program that she could use instead of the traditional paper version. In her current job, when she encounters a patient’s hand-written family health history, she asks a reader to provide her with the inaccessible information. Ronit has long believed that the most difficult part of being a blind genetics counselor is not performing the job itself, instead it is convincing others that she is capable.4
Ronit approached her interview with Myriad confidently. She disclosed her blindness and participated in subsequent videoconference with the interviewers to discuss accommodations and demonstrate how she uses JAWS. Myriad expressed concerns about Ronit’s ability to perform the TeleGenetics counselor position, given her need for screen access software. Ronit said she was willing to be flexible about her work methods, but Myriad said it would not be as flexible.
Though Myriad’s hiring staff repeatedly told Ronit that she was qualified for the position and would be great at the job she sought, Myriad was resolute that it would not hire her without first ensuring that there would be no technology barriers that could affect her work. Ronit encouraged Myriad to engage an accessibility expert to evaluate the software’s interoperability, and Myriad did, though the individual was not familiar with Java software and in the end was unable to determine whether anything could be done to resolve the access barriers.
Ronit persisted and offered to pay for a consultant who was qualified to evaluate Myriad’s software with JAWS. Myriad agreed, and this consultant determined that with the correct configurations, the CRM software was generally accessible with JAWS. Only a few features would require remediation. Myriad, however, decided that it was unwilling to remediate its CRM software and unwilling to provide JAWS scripting or other accommodations, even though Myriad’s software was designed and built in-house, and Myriad has on staff a robust IT team that makes regular updates to the software. Myriad’s hiring manager told Ronit that Myriad would have loved to hire her but was unwilling to change policies and procedures to accommodate her. But for her blindness, Myriad would have hired Ronit.
Ronit’s case is ongoing. She and her attorney, Tim Elder, continue to fight, knowing that a successful resolution could help to improve employment opportunities for other members of the National Federation of the Blind. With this lawsuit, Ronit is hoping to effect systemic change. Among other things, she has asked the court to rule that Myriad:
Ronit is not alone in her experience. If you, like Ronit, encounter an employer who makes a job offer contingent upon whether your screen access software is compatible with the employer’s software, please consider taking the following actions:
For more information about Ronit’s lawsuit or your rights as a job applicant with disabilities, please contact Valerie Yingling, legal program coordinator, at [email protected] or 410-659-9314, extension 2440.
4. Ronit Ovadia-Mazzoni, My Journey to Genetics: Changing What it Means to Be a Blind Genetic Counselor, Braille Monitor, Nov. 2012, https://www.nfb.org/sites/www.nfb.org/files/