In recent years, risk of website accessibility litigation has been on the rise. From 2017 to 2018, the number of federally filed website accessibility cases nearly tripled, from 815 to 2,285. In 2019, more than 3,200 cases were filed. The majority of these cases involve accessibility standards for the visually impaired – that is, courts are being asked to determine whether websites are required to have integrated functionality that allows a person with a visual impairment to use the website.
The Department of Justice has historically declined to clarify regulations and standards on what company websites must do to comply with Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); therefore, leaving the courts to decide.
The Eleventh Circuit decided last week that websites are not places of public accommodation, and thus, businesses do not have to offer disability-friendly services on their website.
In Gil v. Winn-Dixie, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled that Winn-Dixie had not discriminated against a visually impaired customer who alleged that Winn-Dixie’s website was not accessible to him. The court stated the plaintiff had not shown it was necessary for Winn-Dixie’s website to be accessible for him in order to access the goods and services Winn-Dixie offers in its physical store.
What the Eleventh Circuit Ruling Means for Your Company.
This decision creates an even bigger split than previously existed in the way the federal courts of appeals analyze website accessibility claims brought against companies under the ADA.
Companies operating in Florida, Georgia and Alabama (in the Eleventh Circuit) are not required by federal law to make their websites ADA compliant under this new 11th Circuit precedent.
Companies operating in North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and South Carolina (in the Fourth Circuit) have less clarity.
How to Manage Risk
- Discuss your website’s current accessibility with third-party vendors and developers.
- Determine what accessibility features you have and what additional options may exist.
- Encourage user feedback and carefully consider it.
- Be alert for continuing trends. The law in this area will almost certainly continue to develop and may reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
If you need assistance managing risk or staying compliant with the ADA, contact Nicole
Gardner or Erin Ball