Americans with Disabilities Act
Joseph H. Mizrahi is a founding and managing partner of Consumer Attorneys LLP and chairs its Americans with Disabilities (ADA) litigation department.
About Americans with Disabilities Act
Unable to access a website due to a disability? An Americans with Disabilities Act compliance attorney can help you protect your rights under the law.
We live in an age of rapid technological innovation. The Internet has brought many advantages to society, from the immediate access of otherwise unattainable information to purchases and transactions from the comfort of one’s home. Along with these and other advantages afforded to the general public, individuals with disabilities can benefit greatly from the technological advancement driven by the Internet. However, in order to ensure equal enjoyment of the Internet and all that it offers, websites must be fully accessible for individuals with disabilities.
Under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), “places of public accommodation” are required to be fully accessible to allow all members of the general public (including individuals with disabilities) full and equal access. Although the ADA does not explicitly define websites as “places of public accommodation,” courts interpreting the ADA have routinely included websites offering products or services to the general public in the category of “places of public accommodation.” These websites are therefore subject to the ADA’s accessibility requirements.
If you have a disability and have come across websites that may not be ADA compliant, Consumer Attorneys LLP can help. We believe that all individuals have a right to receive information in as many forms as possible, and if a website fails to meet your needs, we are here to fight on your behalf.
Common Non-Accessible Website Violations
Unfortunately, websites that are not designed to meet the standards outlined in the ADA pose significant barriers to the access of the products and/or services that the websites offer to the public (known as “access barriers”). Exact access barriers can vary based on an individual’s disability. For example, visually-impaired individuals who commonly use screen reading software to access websites can be prevented from accessing and enjoying a website’s products and/or services by a range of access barriers, such as:
- The lack of a text equivalent for non-text elements and visual content (such as pictures);
- The lack of forms designed for visually-impaired individuals with the same information and functionality as for sighted persons;
- The inability to resize text that lacks assistive technology without losing content or functionality;
- If the content enforces a time limit, the user is not able to extend, adjust or disable it;
- The inability to determine the purpose of each hyperlink from the text of the link itself or the context of the link;
- Content that requires input from the user (such as CAPTCHA prompts) without labels or instructions explaining what input is needed; or
- PDFs that cannot be read by screen reading software.
These and other access barriers can prevent visually-impaired individuals from accessing certain websites. Likewise, individuals with other disabilities (including those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, individuals who are mobility disabled, or individuals who are cognitively or intellectually disabled) can be prevented from accessing products or services offered to the public by numerous access barriers found on websites.
How the Americans with Disability Act & Website Accessibility law works
Northern District of Georgia ruling article is ready: Companies accused of Americans with Disabilities Act violations on their websites can’t get lawsuits dismissed just by claiming they have installed programs to fix those issues -- especially when accessibility issues remain, a federal court ruled.
The ruling from a Northern District of Georgia court is a win for plaintiffs fighting against institutions accused of running websites with barriers to people with disabilities, as it shows that federal courts won’t let defendants off easy when they face ADA website lawsuits.
In March 2020, visually-impaired Georgia resident Todd Taylor filed a lawsuit under Title III of the ADA against clothier H. Stockton-Atlanta, Inc., a company that operates a website that allows customers to buy products online or find addresses and hours of operation for its brick-and-mortar stores.
Under Title III of the ADA, companies and institutions are required to make accommodations on their websites for people with sensory impairments -- just as they would at their physical storefronts.
Taylor says he tried to use the H. Stockton website with the help of screen-reading software but he found obstacles that prevented him from making purchases and finding information about the company’s physical stores, including broken hyperlinks, missing labels for certain webpage elements and a lack of alternative text for images.
Company owner Hamilton Stockon III claims that after the suit was filed he purchased an annual subscription to “accessiBe,” an online service that can modify websites to the World Wide Web Consortium’s international guidelines for making websites more accessible for people with disabilities.
Stockton claims in court papers that he purchased the subscription about one month after the case began -- and argued in a motion to dismiss filed just two weeks later that Taylor’s lawsuit should be dismissed because it had been rendered moot.
But US District Judge Thomas Thrash didn’t let Stockton off the hook.
A forensic data expert audited the company’s website on June 8, 2020 on Taylor’s behalf and found that several barriers remain for the visually impaired -- so it would be “premature” for him to dismiss the case on a mootness argument, the judge said.
Thrash also said that even if Stockton voluntarily alleviated the ADA issues that Taylor alleges in his suit by purchasing accessiBe, it would be “improper” to toss the case at this early stage -- and that there is no reasonable expectation that ADA violations would not happen in the future because Stockton must renew his annual subscription to the service.
Further, the judge continued, Stockton has offered no explanation for making changes to the site beyond a “bland pronouncement” that he wants to make sure “any willing customer” can buy his products during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“There is little to indicate that the Defendant ‘was motivated by a genuine change of heart’ rather than a desire to avoid liability in this action,” Thrash wrote, citing standards established in a 2007 ruling by the Atlanta-based US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
People with disabilities have rights under federal law ensuring that they have equal access to online goods and services -- and the team at Consumer Attorneys is here to help hold companies and institutions accountable in court if their digital spaces contain obstacles that violate the ADA.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Does the ADA Deal with Non-Compliant Websites?
What options for Victims of Inaccessibility?
How Protect Your Right to Website Accessibility?