A recent decision issued by United States District Court Judge Robert Scola found that the website of an owner and operator of a chain of regional grocery stores is subject to Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as a service of a public accommodation, and must be accessible to persons who are visually impaired. Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc. appears to be the first trial on the issue of whether a website is covered by Title III of the ADA.
In this case, the plaintiff testified that he uses screen-reader software to assist him in navigating websites and that it has worked on hundreds of websites. However, the plaintiff’s screen-reader software did not work on the defendant’s website, and thus the plaintiff was unable to access key information and services such as store locations and hours, digital coupons that link to a customer’s rewards card, and the ability to refill prescriptions at a particular store’s pharmacy. The website also did not contain any sort of accessibility notice or announcement of any proposed changes to its accessibility.
The US District Court for the Southern District of Florida found that “the website is heavily integrated” with the physical store locations and, although the website does not directly sell goods and services to customers, the services offered by the website are “services, privileges, advantages and accommodations” offered by the physical store locations. Because the website was inaccessible to customers who must use screen-reader technology, the court found that the website had denied the plaintiff the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations that the defendant offers its sighted customers, and therefore violated the ADA.
Judge Scola awarded the plaintiff injunctive relief and ordered the defendant to conform the website to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.
This area of law is an important area to monitor. As we last discussed, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it would finalize regulations to explain what constitutes an accessible website for public accommodations in the private/nongovernment sector in fiscal year 2018 at the earliest. However, the DOJ appeared to favor WCAG 2.0 as the standard required for such websites. In light of this recent court decision, businesses and other organizations should consider assessing the accessibility of their websites to determine whether they comply with the WCAG 2.0 standards.