Under Title III of the American Disability Act (ADA), there must be no discrimination against people living with a disability at places of public accommodations. That includes premises that are open to the public, such as schools, restaurants, office buildings, factories, and more.
Owners of such businesses must allow full and equal enjoyment of products, services, privileges, and advantages for everyone. In compliance, brick and mortar constructions include facilities like wheelchair ramps to ease access for persons with a disability. But did you know that your website may also be subject to ADA compliance?
Dispute over website accessibility in the past couple years has gained the attention and traction of many across the United States. Persons with various types of disability are filing lawsuits against businesses whose websites are inaccessible.
The Root of ADA Title III Website Accessibility Lawsuits
At the time of the introduction of ADA (1990), websites were nonexistent in the public domain. For this reason, the ADA could not set compliance regulations for websites.
It’s not until the past few years that people began looking at websites for accessibility. Cases of ADA Title III website accessibility lawsuits have had a massive upsurge over recent years. Experts estimate that 2018 had over 10,000 such disputes.
How Is a Website a Public Accommodation?
Technology has paved the way for online business models to thrive. When in need of a product, most people will do some online shopping.
It is argued that a website acts as a gateway to a business’s products and/or services just like how a brick and mortar store would. Because of this, websites must be considered as a part of the business’s offerings to the public and therefore, an inaccessible website discriminates against a person who is incapable of using it.
Gil versus Winn-Dixie Stores
Gil, a visually impaired customer, filed a lawsuit against Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc. because their business website was inaccessible. The defendant argued that the physical store was open for everyone, and no one has prevented Gil from shopping there.
The court ruled that ADA doesn’t merely consider the physical business premises when evaluating places of public accommodation. Gil couldn’t access Winn-Dixie’s services and offers such as the online pharmacy management system, the link to a rewards card, any digital coupons, and the store locator.
For this reason, the store had violated Title III of the ADA. The court ordered the respondent to modify the site to make it accessible to visually impaired users.
Haynes Sues Hooters
In 2017, Haynes sued Hooters because of the inability to use the screen reader on the restaurant’s website. Hooters was aware of the inaccessibility issue since another blind customer had filed a similar complaint the previous year.
The defendant sought pardon, saying they were in the process of implementing the accessibility fixes dictated in the previous ruling. The court agreed.
Discontented, Haynes filed an appeal. The Florida court couldn’t see any evidence that Hooters was actively updating its site. The Court of Appeals nullified the ruling of the lower court and sent the case back for further proceedings.
How Companies Can Ensure Website Accessibility
Accessibility entails making sure that people with a disability can engage meaningfully with your site. Your design must provide facilities to support users with vision impairments, or users with hearing impairments or even users with learning impairments. Accessible websites are meant to be designed with inclusion in mind.
You can achieve ADA Title III accessibility compliance by implementing the following:
- Creating alt tags for audio, images, and video
- Designing an organized, consistent layout
- Developing transcripts for audio and video
- Stating the language of the site in the header code
- Responding to input errors with suggestions and alternatives
- Compliance with website accessibility standards is continuous. Look out for new developments in the industry and implement them as they come.
Website Accessibility Takeaway
Regardless of your industry or focus, your website should be accessible to everyone. Keeping your site ADA compliant is beneficial for everyone who may be a patron to your business.
In Winn-Dixie’s case, it’s clear that the law recognizes business websites as places of public accommodation. The Hooters dispute shows that it is necessary to take action on the business’s part.
If your website violates ADA Title III accessibility requirements, take the steps needed to make your website fully compliant. Contact MAB Accessibility today!