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Website Accessibility

Image shows the wheelchair symbol from the transportation department, used to delineate handicapped spaces or places accommodating individuals with a disability.

Domino’s pizza has filed a “Petition for a Writ of Certiorari” in the case of Guillermo Robles v. Domino’s Pizza LLC.  Domino’s is asking the Supreme Court to address the question of website accessibility. They are asking the court to decide if Domino’s Pizza’s website falls under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), and if web sites and apps, are “places of public accommodation.” If the court says websites are places of public accommodation, then they must be accessible. Just like a building must be accessible to people with disabilities.

The number of website accessibility lawsuits are increasing. In these suits plaintiffs argue the defendant company’s websites are not accessible. For example, a blind person cannot access a website if the site does not work with a screen reader. A person with poor vision cannot access a website if navigation relies on detecting colors with insufficient contrast. Or if text cannot be resized. Similarly, deaf people cannot access audio accompanying a video on a website, if the video is not captioned.

These lawsuits all hinge on the question Domino’s is asking the Supreme Court to answer? Is a website or app a public accommodation? Currently, different courts provide different answers. For example, the 9th Circuit, which covers Washington State, says a website with no connection to a physical place is not a public accommodation. Other circuits say that even when a company has no brick and mortar facility, its website is a public accommodation. Public accommodations are covered by the ADA.

In addition, state law may protect people with disabilities. For example, Washington state has statutes addressing accessibility. And some businesses, such as airlines have responsibilities under additional laws like the Airline Carrier Access Act.

Lack of Website Accessibility Standards add Confusion

Some defendants argue that because the Department of Justice (DOJ) never set accessibility standards, a lawsuit against them should not proceed. While this may seem a valid due process argument, courts often reject it. However, in the absence of guidance from the DOJ courts look to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These guidelines are developed through a W3C process These are the same processes that standardizes key Web technologies like the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML).

There are two versions of WCAG standards (2.0 and 2.1). The WCAG organized its web accessibility guidelines under four principles: perceivability, operability, understandability, and robustness. There are also three testable success levels: A, AA, and AAA.

Make Website Accessibility a Feature

To avoid website accessibility lawsuits companies should ensure their websites, apps, and self-service kiosks follow the WCAG. That is to say, make working with your company easy by implementing web accessibility as just good business. Admittedly, it has a cost. However, balance those costs against increased business and good will creating by ensuring everyone can access its goods and services.

First, commit to conforming with the WCAG 2.0 AA guidelines. Second, use tools to help determine what needs to be fixed and fix it. Third, offer alternative methods, such as a telephone hotline as an interim step so a person encountering a web accessibility problem can reach you. Fourth, solicit comments from people who have difficulties using your site or app. Finally add a page to your site or app which tells people your policy and progress you are making towards web accessibility.

If you have questions about web accessibility LEXQUIRO can help.

Disclaimer: Nothing in this post is legal advice. Before taking action about any matter discussed in this post you should consult with an attorney.

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