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ADA Award-Winning LinkNYC Only Adds Features for Blind After Lawsuit

By Shaye Weaver | January 31, 2017 4:32pm
 LinkNYC kiosks will soon have better accessibility for blind New Yorkers.
LinkNYC kiosks will soon have better accessibility for blind New Yorkers.
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DNAinfo/Camille Bautista

NEW YORK CITY — Blind New Yorkers will now be able to make calls and get directions through LinkNYC kiosks like everybody else.

The National Federation of the Blind sued the city and LinkNYC's operator, Citybridge, in July 2016 saying the kiosks — which function as a phone, charger and tablet — lacked basic features like braille and audio cues that accommodate vision-impaired New Yorkers.

In August 2015 — before the kiosks began officially rolling out in March 2016 — Citybridge/LinkNYC was awarded the city's American Disabilities Act Sapolin Award for "[having fought] for the rights of people with disabilities, and in particular those individuals and organizations who have shown exemplary commitment to inclusion, accessibility and equality," Mayor Bill de Blasio said at the time.

But it wasn't until a settlement on Jan. 26 that the city agreed to make accessibility enhancements to the kiosks, including text-to-speech navigation features, a screen reader, a zoom-in feature, the option to invert colors, and a dedicated shortcut key to request help using features.

All the features will be added to the system within six to 12 months, according to the settlement.

The National Federation of the Blind's lawsuit demanded that the city halt further installation of LinkNYC kiosks and that accessibility be added to the ones already put in place.

"I touched the screen and nothing happened," Mindy Jacobsen, a Bay Ridge resident who's listed as a complainant in the lawsuit, told DNAinfo New York in July.

"I plugged my headphones in and there was no speech...nothing that would give me any idea of what to touch or press."

In the settlement this month, Citybridge promised to update its policy to ensure that all Links are accessible before they're installed and to train its employees annually on accessibility and to appoint an accessibility coordinator.

Citybridge will issue a progress report to the city and to the National Federation of the Blind every six months, according to the settlement. 

The changes must be installed by Jan. 2018, the settlement states.

► READ: City's LinkNYC Kiosks Discriminate Against the Blind, Lawsuit Says

► READ: LinkNYC Kiosks Clogging Sidewalks With Encampments and Drug Deals: Locals

Mark A. Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind, said that he is glad to see that the city and CityBridge are committing to making LinkNYC service available to all New Yorkers regardless of their visual ability.

"We urge other entities contemplating similar services to follow the example being set by CityBridge in its implementation of this comprehensive agreement, and we stand ready to partner with municipalities and other entities as they plan and implement these services," he said in a statement.

More than a million people have signed up to use free Wi-Fi service at the city's LinkNYC kiosks since they rolled out, city officials said on Jan. 18. 

More than 600 kiosks were installed across all five boroughs after the city began installing them to replace telephone booths last year.

Jacobsen, who is a technology teacher at the Vision Services for the Blind at 23rd Street, said she is happy that her students will be able to use the system.

"People with disabilities have a right to full participation in new technological innovations,” she said. “I'm excited to use LinkNYC's features and I'm glad I can tell my students they can access LinkNYC too.”

“CityBridge is committed to making LinkNYC accessible to all New Yorkers and visitors, and designed Links to incorporate braille, wheelchair accessibility, a tactile keypad and 911 button and other accessibility features," said Jen Hensley, General Manager of LinkNYC.

"We are proud of our work with the National Federation of the Blind, Disability Rights Advocates, and the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities to improve access to LinkNYC for the blind, and we will continue to ensure that this first-of-its-kind network remains a model of accessibility for all,” she added.