The ADA and the Internet

Most employers and business owners are generally aware of the requirements set forth by the ADA to accommodate accessibility to buildings and facilities by individuals with disabilities. These guidelines may impact the type of material used or the design of entrances, doorways and the like. However, how many business owners understand that these regulations also govern the Internet? The advancement of technology continues to make it easier for consumers to purchase goods and services without venturing outside. While websites allow companies to market to more consumers, the use of Internet services also expose employers and business owners to liability of the site isn’t compliant with the ADA. The Southern District of Florida addressed this issue in Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc.

In Gil, a visually impaired individual claimed that he was a frequent customer of the grocery store retailer, Winn-Dix Stores, Inc. While Gil was never denied access to any Winn Dixie physical store location, the company’s website, which allowed customers to refill medical prescriptions and find coupons, was inaccessible to Gil due to his visual impairment.

As a threshold issue, it was determined Gil had standing to bring a lawsuit because he intended to visit the store again in the near future. Under this theory, virtually any customer of a business has standing to bring a lawsuit against a business selling goods or services. Ultimately, the judge ruled that an inaccessible website constituted a violation of the ADA. The decision also held that Winn-Dixie was responsible for the entire website’s lack of accessibility even though parts of the website are operated by third-party vendors.

Gil was awarded his attorney’s fees as the prevailing party and Winn-Dixie was subjected to an injunction requiring updates to its website so that visually impaired individuals can access it. The injunction also adopts the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 as the accessibility standard that Winn-Dixie must meet in making its website accessible.

WCAG 2.0 AA is a set of guidelines developed by a private group of accessibility experts and has not been adopted as the legal standard for public accommodation websites. However, the court’s adoption of the guidelines sets WCAG 2.0 AA as the de facto standard for website accessibility. In light of this decision, employers and business owners covered by the ADA would be well advised to ensure their websites comply with the ADA and may refer to WCAG 2.0 AA as a guidepost.