VA sued in Federal court on Oracle Cerner EHR accessibility issues

What you may have missed over the holiday–another one to add to the VA’s Mound of Misery with the Oracle Cerner rollout. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is being sued on the choice of Oracle Cerner as the successor to VistA and its inability to accommodate Federal accessibility requirements. The new EHR apparently does not accommodate assistive technology, such as screen readers that enable the visually impaired to read and direct input on computer screens and thus perform their work. The lawsuit was filed on 21 June in the US Federal District Court for the District of Columbia by Laurette Santos, a clinical social worker at VA’s White City, Oregon, facility.

Ms. Santos is a 10+ year veteran of the VA. In her job as Visual Impairment Services Team (VIST) Coordinator since 2019, she relies on the Job Access With Speech (JAWS) screen reader application. Like the veterans she counsels, she is also legally blind and has been since 1988.  She requires access to the EHR in order to obtain veterans’ histories, determine their needs, and input notes. JAWS converts the screens into spoken words (or Braille output through a connected device) and allows blind users to access and interact with applications using the computer keyboard. In planning for the Oracle Cerner transition in June of 2022, she reported in 2019 that the JAWS screen reader did not work with the new EHR and didn’t even allow her to sign in. At work, she continues to use VistA in a read-write-only format but cannot use Oracle Cerner and must delegate tasks to sighted employees. Bottom line, she cannot independently perform her work whereas previously she was able.

The lawsuit charges that the VA did not ensure that the Oracle Cerner EHR complied with the Section 508 accessibility standards per the contract and that it worked before its implementation. Section 508 has been part of every Federal contract since 1998, when the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was amended to make electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Between November 2020 and November 2021, the VA’s Section 508 Office conducted several audits and found the Cerner EHR was inaccessible. The lawsuit alleges that this constitutes ongoing violations of both Section 508 and Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act; Section 501 prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Veterans also cannot use features tied into Oracle Cerner as they are non-compliant.

In the lawsuit, Ms. Santos is represented by The National Federation of the Blind and Brown Goldstein & Levy partners Eve Hill and Chelsea Crawford. The VA does not comment on pending litigation. HIT Consultant, Federal News Network

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