by Emily Gaston.
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
The ADA is a federal law enacted in 1990 that requires all places of “public accommodation” to be accessible to individuals with disabilities. Historically, this definition has included businesses generally open to the public, such as restaurants, movie theaters, schools, office buildings, recreation facilities, etc. In the past, lawsuits about the ADA focused on accessibility to a physical location. Recently, cases have started to question the accessibility of business websites and mobile apps.
There have been attempts, including by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and members of Congress, to address disability accommodation on websites. Currently, though, there are no clear rules, and different courts have come to different conclusions. Some courts have found that websites are a place of public accommodation, and there is no requirement for the business to have a physical location. Other courts have required that a website exist in connection with a physical location for the ADA’s accessibility requirements to apply to the website. In the second characterization, for example, it is unlikely that Netflix’s website would meet the compliance conditions because it is entirely an online business, while Target’s website may be subject to ADA accessibility requirements because it has a nexus to Target’s physical store locations.
The Domino’s Pizza Case
Domino’s Pizza was sued in California based on allegations that its website and mobile app are inaccessible to blind and visually impaired individuals in violation of the ADA. The lower court dismissed the case because Dominos was unable to follow guidelines or meet standards that the DOJ had failed to publish. On appeal, however, the Ninth Circuit reversed the dismissal, because Domino’s had notice of the ADA’s general requirements and the DOJ’s 1996 position that the ADA applied to websites. Domino’s has appealed to the Supreme Court for final word on whether the ADA requires a website or mobile app that offers goods or services to the public to satisfy specific accessibility requirements. If the Supreme Court takes the case, we will hopefully have guidance on what businesses should do to ensure their websites are ADA compliant.
What Can I Do in the Meantime?
Two simple upgrades could improve your website’s overall accessibility:
1. Include images that have embedded descriptive text
2. Provide videos with a closed captioning feature
For further guidance, consider that courts have consistently found a website or mobile app to be accessible if it follows the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0). The WCAG 2.0 are accessibility standards developed by an international organization called the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Luckily, there is a bullet point list that carries over the basic fundamentals of WCAG but makes them easier to understand and implement.
The ADA allows private individuals to bring enforcement actions against businesses. Although the ADA limits the types of financial costs imposed for non-compliance, there is no limit to the potential cost. Businesses can be required to change their website, and the private petitioner will recoup costs and attorney’s fees associated with bringing the enforcement action.
Contact an Atlanta Business Attorney for Help
Do you have questions about how to address an ADA accessibility claim against your business? Wondering how to implement best practices in your current website or app? Don’t hesitate to contact the experienced Atlanta business attorneys at Stanton Law at 404-881-1288 or online. We can help you understand your risk and responsibilities as the situation evolves.