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(Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc has been sued by disability rights advocates who accused the world's largest retailer of failing to make payment machines accessible to disabled customers who use wheelchairs and scooters.
In what they called the first case of its kind, the plaintiffs accused Wal-Mart of discriminating against disabled customers by mounting "point-of-sale" terminals in many stores at elevated heights that cannot be reached.
They said this makes it difficult or impossible for the customers to pay for goods with credit or debit cards, and that Wal-Mart has refused to replace these older-model terminals despite using more accessible equipment in other stores.
The complaint filed on Wednesday with the federal court in San Francisco accuses Wal-Mart of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and California state laws protecting the disabled.
It seeks class-action status, and a permanent injunction requiring the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer to make point-of-sale terminals fully accessible to people in wheelchairs and scooters.
"Wal-Mart should be an industry leader, not a defender of discrimination," Bill Lann Lee, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.
Ashley Hardie, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, in a statement said the retailer is committed to serving disabled people. "Our goal is that every POS machine be accessible within the regulations and guidelines of the ADA and California law," she added.
The lawsuit was filed by Center for Independent Living Inc, a group based in Berkeley, California; and California residents Janet Brown and Lisa Kilgore, who both use wheelchairs. Two other disability rights groups are also involved.
According to the complaint, some customers are forced to "stretch and strain upwards" to see Wal-Mart's view screens, while others risk identity theft by having to orally give their personal identification numbers to cashiers.
The complaint said neither Brown nor Kilgore can see the display screens at the Wal-Mart stores where they shop, and neither can privately enter her own confidential PIN number.
"I feel unsafe when I check out," Brown said in a statement.
The case is Center for Independent Living Inc et al v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 12-03885.
Reporting By Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Carol Bishopric