Nothing could have surprised a blind couple, Cynthia Morales and her boyfriend Linwood Boyd, when a routine trip to their local Walmart in Owing Mills, Maryland, in 2017, ended with the police being involved. That is exactly what happened whenever Morales tried to use one of the self-service checkout kiosks located at the retail titan’s Maryland store.
The entire premise behind these self-service kiosks that you will find in Walmart locations all over the U.S. is to offer shoppers an alternative to waiting in line for a cashier. The kiosks do offer shoppers some “spoken” prompts, but some of the prompts given do not provide enough information for a blind person to use the kiosk without assistance. After struggling with the machine, Morales had to ask a Walmart employee for help. The employee was obliged to help Morales and Boyd with their transaction but unbeknownst to the couple, the Walmart employee requested a forty dollar cash advance be added to the final bill, which the employee pocketed for himself.
Because there was no audio prompt that gave Morales the total amount of her transaction, she and Boyd were clueless to any malfeasance until the machine audibly instructed her to take her money. Morales and Boyd asked a bystander outside the store to read them just what the receipt said, it was then that the couple realized that they had been charged an additional forty dollars. The money was ultimately returned, but Morales and Boyd made the decision to shop a different Walmart location from that point forward.
Morales and Boyd, along with Melissa Sheeder – another bling Maryland resident; the National Federation of the Blind (NFB); and the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland (NFB-MD) are suing Walmart under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The suit asks the Maryland federal district court to order the giant retailer to make its self-service checkout kiosks fully accessible to blind Americans.
There are similar devices, such as ATM’s, Airline check-in kiosks, point-of-sale terminals located in the back of taxicabs that can be used independently by blind people. Usually, voice prompts and commands are spoken and can be heard through a headphone jack located on different devices, that allows blind users to respond via a tactile keypad or touchscreen. The NFB has offered to work with Walmart in order to improve the accessibility of their kiosks, but Walmart declined their offer.
“What happened to Cindy Morales is an extreme example of what can occur when companies like Walmart deploy inaccessible self-checkout or point-of-sale technology,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind.
“The real problem is that Walmart has decided to treat blind customers differently from sighted customers. Walmart’s refusal to deploy readily available technology to give blind shoppers the same choice sighted shoppers have—whether to check ourselves out or visit a cashier—makes us second-class customers. That is unlawful and unacceptable.”
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