Using and accessing private company websites is undoubtedly a daily occurrence and often a necessity. But what happens if, because of a disability, a user is unable to access a website fully? Under the Title III of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), “no individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of a disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or lease to), or operates a place of public accommodation.” Due to disabilities such as blindness and deafness, the number of website accessibility lawsuits have increased dramatically.
In July 2016, southern grocery/pharmacy retailer Winn-Dixie was sued by a blind Plaintiff, Juan Gil, for violation of ADA Title III. Particularly, Gil was interested in being able to order pharmaceutical refills online, but his website reading software was not compatible with the Winn-Dixie website. Thus, Gil claimed that the Winn-Dixie website was inaccessible under ADA Title III. In response, Winn-Dixie has asserted that their website is not a “place of public accommodation” because they are not a physical location. The Department of Justice intervened in the case to support Gil’s position that websites are subjected to ADA Title III. Courts are split on the issue of whether the internet is included in the statute’s reach, and with a California state court recently finding an online retailer in violation of the ADA Title III under similar facts, it will be telling to see what direction the Winn-Dixie case goes.