Lawsuit Gives Blind People Access to NYS Emergency Mass Notification System



Trees are felled on Kingsbridge Road and Bailey Avenue in Kingsbridge Heights, just outside the border of the Marble Hill section of the Bronx, on Thursday, September 2 at 8:45 a.m. my God! ”seeing the cars and downed trees and expressed their hope that the occupants would make it out alive.
Photo by Miriam Quinoñes

People who are blind and use screen readers will now have independent access to vital information offered by “NY-Alert”, New York State’s mass notification system. Disability Rights Advocates, a non-profit organization, announced Wednesday, September 29, that under a settlement agreement just reached between blind advocates and the Office of Information Technology Services (ITS) of the New York State, the state agency will bring critical information to the NY- Alert website of its compliance with web accessibility standards within six months.

Advocates said it would mean people who use screen readers can ensure they receive urgent emergency notifications, including urgent alerts about hazards such as hurricanes, floods, fires. and winter storms. The agreement resolves a 2020 complaint filed on behalf of an individual plaintiff, Anne Chiappetta, and the American Council of the Blind of New York, Inc.

“Prior to this trial, the NY-Alert website was not navigable for me,” Chiappetta said. “I had to rely on others to sign up and sign up for alerts, and I couldn’t manage my own contact preferences on the site. I can’t wait to get to what I need on the site soon, so I can choose how I want to receive alerts and anyone else who uses a screen reader can do that as well.

New York State Warning System
Screenshot courtesy of New York State

The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit because prior to this deal, people who use screen readers to access visual information could not independently use the NY-Alert website to sign up for urgent alerts. or choose how to receive alerts, which put them at risk in an emergency.

Disability Rights Advocates said people who are blind often walk and / or rely on public transport to get around, and can be particularly affected by extreme weather conditions that require a sudden deviation from the routes they are used to navigating. It is therefore essential for them to receive the weather and transport warnings as early as possible, so that they can avoid dangerous or unfamiliar terrain.

Karen Blachowicz, President of the American Council of the Blind in New York, Inc. also welcomed the outcome, saying, “We are pleased to have made the deal. New Yorkers and visitors alike have equal access to the information they need to stay safe. “

In addition to making the existing NY-Alert website accessible, ITS will, over the next two years, conduct monthly accessibility testing, including manual user testing by a specialized third-party contractor, and provide training on accessibility to employees and contractors who develop or publish content on the NY-Alert website.

Chloe Holzman, a lawyer with Disability Rights Advocates, said the recent storms and tragic flash floods in New York City have only underscored the importance of effective public emergency warnings that can reach anyone. “We are delighted that ITS is repairing NY-Alert’s accessibility barriers, so people who depend on screen readers are no longer left out of urgent notifications designed to save lives,” she said.


Leave A Reply