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ADA Title III Claims and Website Accessibility

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You might know that Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people from disability discrimination in places of public accommodation. For employers who have physical structures in which their businesses are based, it is clear how Title III applies to those spaces. However, what has not been so clear in recent years is whether and how Title III of the ADA applies to electronic spaces (or, in other words, websites). Imagine, for example, that a business is based on the internet, and that the company’s products are available only through a website. If the website is not ADA-accessible, does that person have a valid Title III claim?

Courts have been debating this question, for more than a decade, and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has been considering new regulations regarding website accessibility.. However, decisions in Florida courts suggest that consumers and employees in Florida may have a difficult time winning Title III claims related to website accessibility.

Concerns About Website Accessibility

What do we mean when we talk about website accessibility? Typically ADA Title III claims surrounding website accessibility concern persons with visual impairments or hearing impairments that can make it difficult to use a website. For instance, if a job applicant has a disability that makes it complicated—or even impossible—to apply for a job on a company’s website, then that applicant may find a lack of alternative methods for applying. As such, the disabled applicant may not be able to receive actual consideration for the job simply because her disability prevented her from using the company’s website application portal.

Consumers can also have trouble using a business’s website if the website is not ADA-accessible. For example, if a person with a disability cannot use a website to make purchases from home, does the business’s website violate Title III of the ADA? In Access Now, Inc. v. Southwest Airlines (2002), a the Southern District of Florida determined that Southwest Airlines was not required by Title III of the ADA to have an accessible website. Specifically, the court ruled that Title III should not be read so broadly as to apply to Internet spaces. There is, however, case law from the 11th Circuit that suggests Title III may extend to electronic space in some situations.

Title III of the ADA Does Not Clearly Address Issues of Website Accessibility

Another recent case out of the Southern District of Florida concerned accessibility barriers for disabled persons using a business’s website. In that case, the federal judge dismissed the Title III claim. The plaintiff argued that Bang & Olufsen America Inc.’s website contained various accessibility barriers and didn’t provide him with the same online shopping experience as non-disabled consumers. As such, the plaintiff argued that the company violated Title III of the ADA. However, the court dismissed the case and explained, “the ADA does not require places of public accommodations to create full-service websites for disabled persons.” To be clear, the court indicated that “all the ADA requires is that, if a retailer chooses to have a website, the website cannot impede a disabled person’s full use and enjoyment of the brick-and-mortar store.”

The DOJ was supposed to issue regulations concerning public accommodations for websites in 2018, yet a recent executive order from the White House suggests that such regulations are unlikely to come. Until there is guidance on Title III of the ADA with regard to website accessibility, there may be no clarification about how and when a website must be accessible—to job applicants, to consumers, and to others with disabilities.

Contact a Florida Employment Discrimination Attorney

In the meantime, if you have questions about filing a Title III claim, you should discuss your case with a Florida employment discrimination attorney as soon as possible. Contact Scott • Wagner and Associates today.

Resource:

whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/01/30/presidential-executive-order-reducing-regulation-and-controlling

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* Cathleen Scott is licensed to practice in Florida only.

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