In 2006, a federal trial court in California’s 9th Circuit became the first court to find that a commercial website must be accessible to the disabled, and to blind customers in particular, because of the prohibition against disability discrimination by places of public accommodation contained in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The retailer argued to no avail that the demands of the ADA do not apply, because a website, since it is not really a physical place at all, is not a “place of public accommodation” within the meaning of the ADA. The court reasoned that the ADA requires full and equal enjoyment of the services “of” any place of public accommodation, not services “in” a place of public accommodation. The ADA is not only about physical access to places.
The court found that the retailer’s many brick-and-mortar stores constituted the “places” of public accommodation. The retailer’s website serves as a “gateway” to such stores, especially for blind customers. If the website is not fully accessible to them, it impedes those customers from coming through the gateway, that is, from having the “full and equal enjoyment” of the stores’ goods and services that the ADA mandates. The court drew an analogy to a case in which a telephone screening process for prospective contestants for a television game show violated the ADA by discriminating against the hearing disabled, even though the discrimination took place away from the studio where the show was produced.
Since this first ground-breaking case (National Federation of the Blind v. Target Corporation, 452 F.Supp.2d 946 (2006)), federal courts around the country have been split regarding the application of the ADA to “places of public accommodation”. Significantly, the court in Nat’lAss’n of the Deaf v. Netflix, 869 F.Supp.2d 196 (D. Mass. 2012) held that web-streaming services offered by Netflix are subject to Title III of the ADA even without a “nexus” to a physical place of accommodation.
So what is a webmaster to do? The Department of Justice, which is responsible for enforcing the ADA, is developing regulations pertaining to commercial websites. Unfortunately, we won’t even see the draft until April of 2016.
In the meantime, there is useful information available. The DOJ’s recommendations for state and local government websites is chock full of tips for upgrading a business website. You can find the recommendations here.
The Worldwide Web Consortium, a private organization, has also drafted useful technical guidelines for complying the ADA. You’ll find their webpage at http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/.
But why go it alone? New Options Business Services has terrific website designers and consultants ready to help you get your message to everyone. Call us today!
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