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Web Accessibility Lawsuits Increasingly Prevalent

Mallory King - December 17, 2016 - Internet Law, Internet Lawyer

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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.

To protect your company’s website from exposure to an ADA Title III lawsuit, it is important to be open to making your website as accessible as possible.  In a recent webinar – “The Road to Sustainable Corporate Accessibility” – John Foliot of Deque Systems commented that “[l]awsuits happen because somebody with a disability reached out to an organization to say that they were having problems, and the organization actually created or accelerated their frustration.”  Thus, it is wise to have procedures in place, particularly within your website’s Terms of Use Agreement, explaining how to address the concerns of disabled individuals that reach out regarding the accessibility of your company’s website.  Additionally, you can consult the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines published by the World Wide Web Consortium, which the Department of Justice has recognized as the current accessibility standard.

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