- May 11, 2018
Thousands of businesses, large and small, have recently been hit with demand letters and lawsuits from blind and visually-impaired persons, alleging that their websites are not fully accessible, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The claimants allege that the defendants’ websites lack coding that coordinates with screen-reading software which reads text and other online content aloud to blind and visually-impaired persons.
To date, defendants’ motions to dismiss such claims have been denied by several federal courts. In January, 2018, one California District Court rejected Pizza Hut’s defense that its website was accessible because it contained a 1-800-Number accessible by screen-reading software which visually impaired users were instructed to call for assistance in navigating the website (Robles v. Yum! Brands, Inc.).
However, another California District Court dismissed such a claim brought against Domino’s Pizza. That case, Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC, is now on appeal before the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and a ruling later this year could provide further guidance on this issue. Notably, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed a brief in this appeal asking the Ninth Circuit to hold that ADA Title III does not extend to websites.
A major problem for businesses, as Pizza Hut pointed out, is that neither the ADA nor any other law articulates standards to which a company’s website must conform. The World Wide Web Consortium has created the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), updated to WCAG 2.0 in 2008, but only recipients of federal funding in the United States must adhere to WCAG 2.0, whereas Canada, the United Kingdom and European Union have set WCAG 2.0 as the standard. In Pizza Hut, the Court held that in order to proceed, the Plaintiff need only demonstrate that Pizza Hut had not met its obligations under the ADA “generally and without reference to a particular standard” — raising the question of whether meeting WCAG 2.0 standards might have been deemed sufficient for Pizza Hut’s website.
While this kind of litigation originated on the West Coast, cases are now being filed in the Midwest. Without clear standards, it is difficult to determine what precautions can be taken to avoid potential litigation related to your website and mobile applications. First, contact your web developer and ask whether your website and mobile application meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA criteria; if not, then we recommend that you take steps to do so promptly. Second, speak with your local chamber of commerce, and state and federal elected officials to encourage them to implement clear website accessibility standards. Three, contact counsel to assist you with compliance on these and other ADA issues.
For more information, please contact Rachel Yarch at 312/840-7029 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Blake Roter at 312/840-7116 or email@example.com.