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Federal Court Rules that a Company's Website Must be Accessible to Its Blind Patrons

Posted by Attorney David McClurg in Labor Relations / Comments

In the first lawsuit of its kind to go to trial, a Florida federal judge recently ruled that Winn-Dixie's website is a “place of public accommodation" subject to the ADA because it is “heavily integrated" with the company's physical store locations. (For example, prescriptions can be refiled on the website and then picked up at the pharmacy located in the store.) As a result, the Court ordered the Company to make its website more accessible to the visually impaired. The Court stated:

The factual findings demonstrate that Winn-Dixie's website is inaccessible to visually impaired individuals who must use screen reader software….Therefore, Winn-Dixie has violated the ADA because the inaccessibility of its website has denied [plaintiff] the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations that Winn-Dixie offers to its sighted customers….

Although Winn-Dixie argues that Gil has not been denied access to Winn-Dixie's physical store locations as a result of the inaccessibility of the website, the ADA does not merely require physical access to a place of public accommodation. Rather, the ADA requires that disabled individuals be provided “full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation."

The Court's required the parties to file a proposed injunction outlining how and when Winn Dixie will have to update its website, and ordered that company's update comply with a widely recognized standard drafted by accessibility experts entitled the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA.

On websites that comply with this standard, individuals with visual impairments can use screen reader software that verbalizes details of the site being visited, and tells the individual which keyboard strokes are needed to engage the website's features. Although one expert has estimated it would cost about $37,000 for the company to update its site, Winn Dixie has reportedly set $250,000 aside for this project.

Similar cases have been filed against a variety of companies in courts all across the country. The Winn Dixie decision will give a major boost to the plaintiffs and attorneys pursuing these cases, and may well lead to many more settlements. Although the plaintiffs in these cases are generally not entitled to recover monetary damages in addition to injunctive relief requiring the defendant company to update its website, they are entitled to recover their attorney's fees.

The Department of Justice has been indicating, since 2010, that it intends to issue regulations addressing the kinds of websites that need to be ADA compliant, and the steps that companies need to take to make such websites compliant. However, those regulations have been delayed, and it now appears that they will not be issued until 2018 at the earliest.

If you have questions about this or other labor & employment questions, please feel free to contact Dave McClurg at (414) 223-6956 or dmcclurg@petriepettit.com.

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