The Americans with Disabilities Act states that places of public accommodation, like stores, museums, restaurants, and movie theaters, must ensure equal access to the goods and services to people with disabilities as to people without disabilities.
New case law is developing regarding whether a business’s website falls under the purview of the ADA. The US Department of Justice began gathering comments on this issue back in 2010, and they have recently extended the deadline for this until 2018. In the meantime, suits are being brought against businesses across the United States for being in violation of the ADA. When the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, the Internet was barely in its infancy, and thus the Act contains no provision for a company’s website.
And courts across the country are divided on the issue. Some courts, like the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, have decided that the ADA does not apply to websites if there is no connection between a site and a physical location. Others, like a Massachusetts district court, have held that any websites that offer goods or services to the public are subject to the ADA, even if the company is only an online presence. Still others, like a California district court, take the middle ground, finding that when a store has both a physical location and an online one, when there is interaction between the two (such as ordering online to pick up in store), the website must be ADA compliant.
So what does this mean for you business owners out there? Between now and when the DOJ releases the guidelines on ADA-compliance in relation to websites, many businesses are choosing to err on the side of caution and updating their sites whenever and wherever they can. Guidelines developed by the World Wide Web Consortium, called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 level AA seem to be the most comprehensive source to use when deciding to make your website as ADA compliant as possible. There are outside consultants that some businesses are hiring to find where their sites can be improved to meet these guidelines.
For the moment, it would seem that websites that do not offer goods or services would not fall under the scope of needing to be compliant, while websites that offer at least some goods or services or are connected to a physical storefront may soon be subject to the ADA.
Many businesses are choosing to address the issue before any regulations are officially in place, since suits are still being brought against businesses, and being won by plaintiffs.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was enacted to protect individuals from discrimination based on a disability. It requires employers to provide a covered employee with a reasonable accommodation and imposes accessibility requirements on public accommodations. If you believe you’ve been discriminated based on a disability, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact one of our experienced attorneys for a free consultation to discuss your matter in greater detail.