Restaurants, bars, schools, gyms, in fact, any business that is open to the public would be well-advised to check the accessibility of its website after a blind man recently sued supermarket chain Winn-Dixie and won.

Juan Carlos Gil claimed that Winn-Dixie had violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act because he couldn’t access its website to fill his prescriptions and download coupons using screen reader software.

Mr Gil testified that nearly 90% of the tabs on Winn-Dixie’s website didn’t work with his screen reader software JAWS and the website also wasn’t fully keyboard navigable.

After a two-day non-jury trial, Judge Robert Scola ruled that the supermarket chain was a “place of public accommodation” under the ADA and operated as a “gateway” to its physical store locations, therefore it should be accessible to people with disabilities.

This ruling also opens up the possibility that any website owned by a business or organization considered a public accommodation could now be found in violation of the ADA by a federal court if the website isn’t fully accessible according to the WCAG 2.0.

Further, Judge Scola found that the “the inaccessibility of [Winn-Dixie’s] website . . . denied [Mr Gil] the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations that Winn-Dixie offers to its sighted customers.”

The court issued injunctive relief (i.e. a legal remedy in place of monetary damages) that Winn-Dixie adopt and implement a website accessibility policy that ensured its website conformed to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 criteria. It’s worth noting the Department of Justice still hasn’t enacted website accessibility regulations for the private sector. Industry consultants have long recommended the WCAG 2.0 standard and the DOJ has adopted it in its regulations governing federal contractors.

The court also ordered that Winn-Dixie publish a statement on its homepage about the accessibility policy, provide training to all employees who work on the website, and test its every three months for the next three years to ensure its ongoing compliance.

On top of that, in a move beyond the scope of most existing website accessibility agreements, the court held that Winn-Dixie must also require that any third-parties responsible for aspects of the websites – including tech companies like Google and Facebook – must also conform to the WCAG 2.0.

What Impact Does This Ruling Have on Business Websites?

This case is a big deal because it’s the most comprehensive ruling of its kind – the court ruled broadly about website accessibility to the point where a company must make its website fully accessible to everyone.

In previous accessibility cases in the corporate world, such as NAD vs. Netflix where the judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff, the defendant has been told to fix just one aspected of a website that made it inaccessible.

This ruling also opens up the possibility that any website owned by a business or organization considered a public accommodation could now be found in violation of the ADA by a federal court if the website isn’t fully accessible according to the WCAG 2.0.

However, it’s important to note that the court did not rule that all public facing websites are places of public accommodation, just Winn-Dixie’s because it “heavily integrated with its physical store locations and operates as a gateway to the physical store location.”

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What Kinds of Businesses Should Act on This Ruling?

According to the ADA website, a place of public accommodation is generally a business or buildings that are open or offer services to the general public and fall within at least one of the following 12 categories:

  1. Places of lodging (e.g. inns, hotels, motels) (except for owner-occupied establishments renting fewer than six rooms)
  2. Establishments serving food or drink (e.g. restaurants and bars)
  3. Places of exhibition or entertainment (e.g. motion picture houses, theaters, concert halls, stadiums)
  4. Places of public gathering (e.g. auditoriums, convention centers, lecture halls)
  5. Sales or rental establishments (e.g. bakeries, grocery stores, hardware stores, shopping centers)
  6. Service establishments (e.g. laundromats, dry-cleaners, banks, barber shops, beauty shops, travel services, shoe repair services, funeral parlors, gas stations, offices of accountants or lawyers, pharmacies, insurance offices, professional offices of health care providers, hospitals)
  7. Public transportation terminals, depots, or stations (not including facilities relating to air transportation)
  8. Places of public display or collection (e.g. museums, libraries, galleries)
  9. Places of recreation (e.g. parks, zoos, amusement parks)
  10. Places of education (e.g. nursery schools, elementary, secondary, undergraduate, or postgraduate private schools)
  11. Social service center establishments (e.g. day care centers, senior citizen centers, homeless shelters, food banks, adoption agencies)
  12. Places of exercise or recreation (e.g. gymnasiums, health spas, bowling alleys, golf courses)

How Accessible Do Websites Have to Be?

The court ordered that Winn-Dixie must make its website conform to WCAG 2.0 Level AA, which requires the following:

  1. Text Alternatives: Provide text alternatives for any non-text content so that it can be converted into other forms people need, such as large print, braille, speech, symbols, or simpler language. A text transcript is required for audio content.
  2. Video Alternatives: Provide alternatives for video and audio. Closed captions and audio descriptions are required for time-synced video.
  3. Adaptability: Create content that can be presented in different ways without losing information or structure.
  4. Clarity: Make it easy for users to see and read content. Provide adequate color contrast and reduce visual clutter that affects legibility.
  5. Keyboard Accessibility: Make all functionality available from a keyboard.
  6. Time: Provide users enough time to read and use content.
  7. Seizure Safety: Do not design content that might trigger a seizure for people with photosensitive epilepsy.
  8. Navigability: Provide multiple, intuitive ways for users to navigate content.
  9. Readability: Make text content easily readable and understandable, both visually and cognitively. Predictability: Make pages appear and operate in predictable ways.
  10. Input Assistance: Help users to avoid making mistakes; make corrections easy.
  11. Compatibility: Maximize compatibility with across devices (desktop, tablet, mobile, Apple vs. PC, etc.). Make sure content is compatible with assistive technologies (screen readers, sip/puff switches, etc.).

You don’t need to be an accessibility expert to make your website accessible. The Web Accessibility Initiative has published some useful tips for getting started while WebAIM’s free WAVE tool allows you to enter a URL and check the basics of a website’s accessibility.

If your website is WCAG 2.0 compliant, it’s also important to ensure – as this ruling orders – that if your site links to another business there should be some effort to confirm the link is to an accessible website.

Conclusion

While disability advocates are no doubt celebrating this historic ruling, the decision is significant because it will no doubt lead to a new wave of ADA website accessibility lawsuits amongst people eager to test the law.

For businesses that operate websites, however, this ruling is a cautionary tale. If your website isn’t accessible or doesn’t comply with WCAG 2.0, now’s the time to act. Not only will it ensure your website can be viewed and used by anyone, but you could save yourself legal troubles in the long-term.

NeatlyPressed and its parent, Materiell provide website development services that comply with the WCAG 2.0 accessibility standards. We have an Accessibility SME, (Subject Matter Expert) on staff that guides our team of accessibility trained designers and developers to create sites that meet the latest WCAG standards. Materiell provides the WordPress web design and development and NeatlyPressed provides the ongoing support and available quarterly accessibility audits that our clients require.

Not sure if your site is ADA compliant? Reach out and we’d be glad to review it at no cost!

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