The National Federation of the Blind is suing McCarran International Airport, alleging that the Las Vegas transportation hub has refused to make its ticket kiosks accessible to the visually impaired.
The lawsuit filed in Las Vegas federal court Tuesday seeks class-action status on behalf of four blind travelers. It accuses the airport owner, Clark County, of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and a federal rehabilitation act by not providing equal services to visually impaired passengers.
The touch-screen kiosks common in airports across the nation let passengers check in for flights, print tickets and boarding passes, and select seats. The lawsuit says the National Federation of the Blind asked McCarran officials in September to modify the kiosks so blind people could benefit from the same services, but the group never received a response.
"It limits the ability of blind people to get done what they need to get done at the airport," said Chris Danielsen, a spokesman for the federation. "Everyone else can just run up to one of these kiosks and get their stuff taken care of and blind people are still confined to consulting with airline or airport employees."
McCarran officials declined to comment on the allegations.
"McCarran International Airport attorneys are in the process of researching the facts and issues raised in the case just filed," spokeswoman Elaine Sanchez said in a written statement.
The National Federation of the Blind is seeking unspecified damages and an injunction ordering the airport to comply with the law. Danielsen said the airport was singled out because the kiosks were installed by government officials. In contrast, kiosks at most airports are installed by private carriers, he said.
The federation filed a similar lawsuit against United Airlines in October. The carrier, which is owned by United Continental Holdings Inc., has asked that the lawsuit be dismissed. The U.S. Department of Justice is expected to weigh in on the case by April 21, according to court documents.
Danielsen declined to comment on whether the Maryland-based federation plans to file lawsuits against other airlines and airports.
He said the Las Vegas airport could easily modify the kiosks so that blind people could use them.
"Often it's simply a matter of putting different software on the same machines," he said.
Roughly 40 million travelers visited McCarran in 2010. The airport began installing the touchscreen devices in 2003 and now boasts more than 220 kiosks at a cost of $20,000 to $30,000 per unit.
"McCarran International Airport is unique in the fact that no self-service kiosks are owned or operated by an airline," Sanchez said. "Due to lack of space and to provide better customer service in the ticketing lobby, it made sense for the airport to create a kiosk that every airline could participate in so passengers could go anywhere in the terminal to print their boarding passes instead of having different kiosks from different airlines."
Among the four plaintiffs named in the federation's lawsuit are Alan and Billie Ruth Schlank, of Arlington, Va. The lawsuit claims the blind couple spends two weeks each year at their Las Vegas time-share and have had to wait for an airline employee to help them check-in at McCarran or depend on the help of other passengers because they cannot use the kiosks.
Eric Bridges, director of advocacy and governmental affairs for the American Council of the Blind, said the growing use of touch-screen devices in airports, restaurants, malls and other public spaces has captured the interest of the blind community. Allowing the visually impaired equal access in airports should be covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, he said.
"You lose a fundamental access of trying to make what can be a pretty frustrating travel experience a little bit easier," he said. "It's something that the blind community cares a lot about."