Scribd settles accessibility lawsuit

A screen with the word E-Book
Scribd Inc to make content accessible

Scribd Inc. announced a settlement with the National Federation of the Blind on November 19, agreeing to make nearly all of the 40 million titles in its online library accessible to people with visual disabilities by the end of 2017.

“Lack of access to the printed word has traditionally been one of the most significant barriers faced by the blind, but electronic books and documents, when they are designed to be accessible to us, can provide access to more information than we have ever had in all of human history, leading to better education and employment outcomes, and helping us to live the lives we want,” NFB President Mark A. Riccobono said in a news release. “We are thrilled that blind readers will soon have access to Scribd’s vast digital library, and we commend Scribd for agreeing to work with us to make this happen.”

The NFB sued Scribd in July 2014, contending that the website violates the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to install screen readers on either on its desktop or mobile applications. This technology converts words into Braille and audio formats accessible to people with visual disabilities.

Scribd argued that it was not subject to ADA accessibility requirements on the basis that a website does not qualify as a “place of public accommodation,” which are covered under Title III of the Act. District Courts are split on the issue of whether the ADA applies to the internet and the only appellate court to address the issue, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in April ruled the internet is not covered.

However, the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont rejected Scribd’s argument in March. In the decision [PDF], the Court noted that the internet could fall under multiple categories listed in the ADA as examples of places of public accommodation, including a “place of exhibition or entertainment,” a “rental establishment,” a “service establishment,” “a library,” a “gallery” or a “place of public display or collection.”

The agreement sets out a timeline for Scribd to rearchitect both its desktop and mobile services, as well as creates a process for Scribd to respond to customer complaints and for the parties to resolve future disputes.

“We are committed to building the library of the future and making it accessible to all,” Scribd CEO Trip Adler said in the news release. “Our collaboration with the National Federation of the Blind is an important step in making this a reality, and we look forward to ensuring our technology is usable for the blind community.”

Disability Rights Advocates, Brown Goldstein & Levy LLP, and Langrock, Sperry & Wool LLP represented the NFB in the case.