In what is the first lawsuit of this kind that I have heard of to go to trial, a Florida federal court has ruled in favor of a blind man who has filed nearly 70 lawsuits alleging that various companies’ websites violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.
On June 12, Judge Robert Scola, of the Southern District of Florida, decided that Winn-Dixie’s website is heavily integrated with the company’s physical store locations, making it subject to the ADA. His decision will require the company to update its site.
Plaintiff Juan Carlos Gil won't receive damages but the company will have to rebuild its website to comply with the court's order. The company has set aside $250,000 to update the site, though testimony during the trial indicated it will not cost nearly that much. During the trial experts estimated it would cost less than $37,000 for the company to update its site
The court ordered the company to comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA drafted by accessibility experts. Experts consider this to be the de facto standard for website accessibility.
Gil can’t see the screen of his computer but uses JAWS or other screen reader software that tells him the details of the site he is visiting. When he hits the tab and shift buttons, it tells him what he needs to type. He uses the Winn-Dixie site to buy groceries and prescription drugs. He wants to use the websites to find coupons and refill prescriptions.
One of the main questions the court had to decide was whether the website is a “place of public accommodation” under the ADA. The court ruled that because the site is “heavily integrated” with Winn-Dixie’s stores, it is.
The Court wrote:
“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.’”
This case indicates that companies which have a website that is a large portion of a customer's experience (think Amazon, Wal-Mart, etc.) will need to make sure their websites are accessible for those who are blind or risk a lawsuit similar to this one.