Are Your Websites ADA Compliant?

Over a year ago, in an issue of the Professional Flooring Dealer, we advised that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA does not just impact a dealer’s physical facilities, such as the need for wheelchair ramps, and enough room between aisles to allow customers to pass, but may also impact your company’s website.  “Does My Website Violate the ADA?” Premier Flooring Dealer (May/June 2016). Now, for the first time, a federal district court has granted a verdict finding that a private-sector company violated the ADA because its website was inaccessible to a visually impaired individual.

The Plaintiff in the case was a blind man and could not use the website of the supermarket chain Winn-Dixie to locate stores, fill and refill prescriptions, and obtain store coupons. Ninety percent of the website was inaccessible to him.  The Plaintiff contended that Winn-Dixie’s website violated the ADA because the website would not integrated with screen reader technology. Screen reader technologies read the content of websites to blind users and assist them through voice prompts in navigating websites. The court determined that the store violated the ADA because the inaccessibility of its website denied the plaintiff the full and equal enjoyment of the goods and services the store offers. The court issued an injunction requiring the store to make its website accessible to the visually impaired. Moreover, the court held Winn-Dixie liable even though it used a third-party vendor for its website. Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., (Case 1:16-cv-23020-RNS)(S.D. FL. June 13, 2017).

The application of the ADA to websites are not fully developed. The courts have split on whether a websites by themselves are “public accommodations” that require equal access under the ADA. All the court, however, have applied the ADA to website that is connected to a physical place, like a retail store. The court in the Winn-Dixie case, for example found that the store’s website was “heavily integrated” with the store’s physical locations and operated as a gateway to the stores.

It is increasingly likely that a website for a flooring retail store will be covered by the ADA and will need to reasonably accommodate the blind and other disabilities. To minimize the risks, flooring retailers should consider taking the following steps:

  • Review your website’s accessibility;
  • Check with your website vendor to verify reasonable access to your website by the disabled (BUT, remember that reliance on third party vendors to operate your website does not necessarily shield your company from liability);
  • Consult with legal counsel experienced in ADA accessibility in assessing your website
  • Review those portions of your website or intranet that are accessible to employees to determine whether accommodations or adjustments may be necessary—you must also ensure employees and applicants for employment have reasonable assess to the website.

The decision in the Winn-Dixie case make it clear that accessibility needs to be a key consideration in website design. It is not only the right thing to do, it may be required, and any flooring retailer ignores this issue at its own peril.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017