Is Your Company’s Website Accessible to People with Disabilities?
Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, businesses across America have been required to install wheelchair ramps or similar features that guarantee accessibility for people with disabilities. In 2017, it seems that businesses may have to re-evaluate how accessible they truly are.
Twenty-five years ago, the internet was not even in our homes yet. There was no World Wide Web. Businesses had only street addresses, not web addresses. In today’s world, most businesses have a website, whether business is done online or not. As far as the ADA is concerned, this raises an important question. Does its reach extend to “virtual” spaces?
Public accommodations are well covered by the ADA. Disability-based discrimination is prohibited in service-oriented businesses such as hotels, restaurants, theaters and retail stores. Public transportation terminals, parks, museums and schools are also required to take measures that accommodate people with disabilities.
Before the internet, businesses were primarily concerned with accommodating customers in wheelchairs or customers with impaired mobility. Website accessibility raises concerns over disabilities such as impaired vision or hearing. Fortunately, guidelines do exist for ensuring that web content is accessible to people with disabilities.
Developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines recommend that content be made compatible using specialized software that converts text to other formats such as large print, Braille or spoken audio. Other recommendations include compatibility with assistive devices and avoiding any type of site design that can cause seizures.
The above recommendations are helpful but they are not the law.
While the federal government has been required to keep its websites accessible for quite some time, private commercial websites are another story. Until recently, it has been unclear whether they are even governed by the ADA. A verdict reached in a recent trial in an ADA discrimination lawsuit may be the first to rectify that.
The lawsuit was brought against Winn-Dixie, a chain of grocery stores, by a visually-impaired man by the name of Juan Carlos Gil. Gil’s claim was that Winn-Dixie’s website was inaccessible to the visually impaired. There were three main issues before the court:
- Was the website subject to the ADA as a service of a public accommodation?
- Was Gil denied the full and equal enjoyment of Winn-Dixie’s goods and services because of his disability?
- Are the requested modifications to the website reasonable and achievable?
Having decided in Gil’s favor, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida has set a precedent that may affect businesses nationwide. As a business and consumer law attorney, I am happy to answer any questions related to the ADA and accommodations for individuals with disabilities at your business. Call my office to make an appointment.
Please be advised that this blog is for informational purposes only, is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship.
The Law Office of H. Benjamin Sharlin LLC
is owned and operated by H. Benjamin Sharlin and serves all of Mercer County, New Jersey and the surrounding areas. Mr. Sharlin is a bilingual Spanish-speaking attorney who vigorously represents the interests of all his clients.
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