Does your website have to be ADA compliant?
Title III of the American’s With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) provides that people shall not be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the “full and equal enjoyment” of goods, services, privileges, facilities or accommodations. Under Title III, private businesses must make reasonable accommodations for disabled persons so they can fully participate if the businesses are places of public accommodations. For example, businesses are required to be wheelchair accessible. A list of businesses that qualify as “places of public accommodation” can be found here. This brings up an important question on whether a website must be ADA compliant.
Is A Company’s Website Considered A Place Of Public Accommodation?
Neither the United States Supreme Court, nor any of the Circuit Court of Appeals have dealt with whether a private business’s website is required to be ADA compliant. The 11th Circuit has held that Title III does extend to non-physical spaces. Rendon v. Valleycrest Prods., 294 F.3d 1279, 1285 (11th Cir. 2002). In Rendon, the court held that Title III applied to a telephone selection process which screened potential contestants for the TV show Who Wants to Be A Millionaire because it impeded disabled individuals from being able to be on the show.
Florida District Court Case
While there is not a national consensus, Florida district courts sitting in Federal jurisdiction have been consistent with requiring a place of public accommodation’s website to be ADA compliant if the website is a “nexus” to the place of public accommodation’s physical location. Gil v. Winn Dixie Stores, Inc., 242 F. Supp. 3d 1315, 1321 (S.D. Fla. 2017). In Gil, a plaintiff brought a claim under Title III of the ADA against Winn Dixie. The complaint alleged inaccessibility of Winn Dixie’s website to blind individuals. It reasoned that blind individuals were denied the ability to enjoy the services, privileges, and advantages of Winn Dixie’s stores.
The website allowed customers to:
- locate physical Winn Dixie store locations;
- fill and refill prescriptions for in-store pick-up or delivery;
- learn about Winn Dixie brand items, access home-cooking recipe; and
- receive information about product recalls.
The parties agreed that Winn Dixie’s website was not ADA compliant, but Winn Dixie argued it did not have to be compliant. Their argument was that the website is not a place of public accommodation. Nonetheless, the Southern District of Florida held that the website needed to be ADA compliant. The court reasoned that the website was not a place of public accommodation by itself, but was instead a “nexus” to a place of public accommodation because it impeded a disabled person’s ability to enjoy Winn Dixie’s services of allowing customers to locate Winn Dixie stores and also refill prescriptions for in-store pickup or delivery.
Distinguishing Between Website Use And Impeding Physical Access To Place Of Business
While the Gil case shows that websites can be required to be ADA compliant, the website is not subjected to ADA requirements if the inability to use the website does not impede a disabled person’s access to the physical locations of the business. Haynes v. Pollo Ops., Inc., No. 17-cv-61003-GAYLES, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 51748, at *8 (S.D. Fla. Mar. 28, 2018). In Haynes, the plaintiff was a blind man who sued the defendant company. He alleged he was not able to access the website and consequently denied full and equal access to the Company’s website. The Company moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim.
The Southern District of Florida granted the Company’s motion for dismissal. While recognizing that the plaintiff did not have full access to the website, this lack of access did not impede the plaintiff’s access to the Company’s stores. Unlike in Gil where the Win-Dixie website allowed customers to fill and refill prescriptions on the website, the court held that merely being denied information about a company’s public accommodation is not enough to show the impediment required for an ADA violation.
Websites That Are Wholly Unconnected To A Physical Location
District courts within the Eleventh Circuit have considered whether websites are public accommodations. They have uniformly held that the ADA does not apply to a website that is wholly unconnected to a physical location. Gomez v. Bang & Olufsen Am., Inc., No. 16-23801, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15457, *10 (S.D. Fla. Feb. 2, 2017).
In Gomez, a blind individual attempted to access the website of a brick and mortar store. The website had information about store locations, brand merchandise, and the ability to make appointments with store representatives. The store’s website was not ADA compliant. However, the court held that the store’s website did not have to be ADA compliant because it did not impede a disabled person’s ability to enjoy the store. The court further concluded that the ADA does not require businesses to create full-service websites for disabled persons, rather it just cannot impede a person’s full enjoyment of the business.
ADA Compliant Conclusions
A website is not a place of public accommodation. Thus, if a website were to fall under the ADA umbrella, it is because of its relation to a physical location. As Haynes and Gomez demonstrate, a website having store information is not enough to require ADA compliance. Similar to Gil, the website would have to have a feature that allowed the website to be a nexus to the physical store location. For example, an online portal to allow clients to pay their bills online. This could be an impediment similar to how a drug store’s online refill service was an impediment for blind persons to fully enjoy the drug store. If a business’s site does not have a similar feature, it does not have to be ADA compliant.
Florida Federal District Courts have been uniform in requiring a website to be a nexus to a physical location before needing to be ADA compliant. Thus, when determining whether or not to pay the extra expense of making a website ADA compliant, the business should first determine what the website offers. If the site is purely informational like Haynes and Gomez, it likely does not need to be ADA compliant. However, if the site offers extra services like in Gil, it might need to be ADA compliant. When in doubt, seek counsel for an interpretation of the law and the measures needed to be in compliance with legal requirements.
Charles B. Jimerson, Esq.
John Rutledge, JD Candidate