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News10NBC Investigates: RIT, Naz caught in explosion of ADA website lawsuits

May 03, 2019 07:01 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — All week News10NBC investigated the thousands of lawsuits accusing the owners of restaurants, malls, art galleries and wineries of discriminating against people with disabilities. Critics call the lawsuits a cash grab by serial plaintiffs and their lawyers. 

News10NBC learned Friday that the Rochester Institute of Technology, Nazareth College, and dozens of other colleges and universities have been sued for the same violations by the same guy from Brooklyn.

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The lawsuit says RIT, which has a school for the deaf, failed to "design, construct, maintain and operate its website to be fully accessible" to the "blind or visually impaired."

Nazareth College got the same claim by the same plaintiff, Jason Camacho. In fact, we found Camacho is suing 54 colleges and universities. 

Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean: "How do you respond to the criticism that there has been this explosion of ADA lawsuits and people like Jason have been called serial plaintiffs?"

Jeffrey Gottleib, Camacho's attorney: "Well I don't know if that's a badge of honor or not because a serial plaintiff is somebody that is trying to correct many different websites to be acessible not only to him but to all blind and vision impaired people."

But just like the Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits News10NBC exposed this week, the complaints against RIT, Nazareth, and the other schoos are identical. The lawyer just changes the name of the school. 

Tom Stebbins, from the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, calls them serial plaintiffs. 

Tom Stebbins, Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York: "And unfortunately a lot of lawyer are employing crawlers. So they have these software programs that they use to identify sites that are not compliant with the ADA."

"Well we knew we needed to change something," said Chip Dolce, director of instructional technology at Palmyra-Macedon Schools.

Pal-Mac changed its website in September. It's run by a web development company in Ohio with specific software to make the website compliant with the law. 

Dolce demonstrated a feature of the new website as he tried to upload a picture a me without including any description. 

Dolce: "And if I tried to put it on our site, it wouldn't let you do it. It says 'alt text is required.'"

The new system makes Dolce write a description of the photo. 

Dolce: "So we would say 'here this is a photo of Berkeley.' Then you would click okay and the photo comes in." 

The devices used by people who are blind or visually impaired will read the description of the photo and that makes the school's website ADA compliant. 

Brean: "So what you just showed me, does that protect the district from these lawsuits?"

Dolce: "As best we can, it helps make our site as compliant as possible and as accessible as possible. It's really what it's all about, is making sure the information we have gets to the people who need it as quickly as possible."

RIT and Nazareth settled their lawsuits. RIT refused to comment. 

In an email, Nazareth declined to comment on the lawsuit but said, "Nazareth contracted with a consultant who thoroughly looked at the College's website for any places that it needed to work on ADA compliance, and now the college is beginning the process of implementing the recommendations."

Neither school would not say how much they paid in legal fees. 

Every school Camacho sued was at a huge college fair he attended in New York City last November.

Credits

Berkeley Brean

Copyright 2019 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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