The Americans With Disabilities Act Goes Online

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was enacted in 1990, was intended to “provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities.” The Department of Justice requires that places of public accommodation are to “furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to ensure effective communication with individuals with disabilities.”

Now, nearly 30 years later, ADA lawsuits are skyrocketing in an entirely different area—the web. In a recent Ninth Circuit Decision, the Court of Appeals in Robles v. Domino’s Pizza held that Title III of the ADA applies to websites and apps.

In Robles, the plaintiff filed suit seeking damages and injunctive relief based on Domino’s failure to “design, construct, maintain, and operate its website and app to be fully accessible to and independently usable by Mr. Robles and other blind or visually-impaired people.” Mr. Robles had tried unsuccessfully to utilize the website using screen-reader technology.

Domino’s was unsuccessful in arguing that the application of the ADA to its website violated its due process rights. Domino’s argued that the Department of Justice had failed to provide helpful guidance regarding website compliance, despite announcing its intent to do so since 2010.

Many other businesses claim that the lack of clarity makes it difficult to avoid litigation and difficult to resolve the website’s problems. The ADA language does not specifically discuss website accessibility, which is not surprising given that the internet was not a widespread medium 30 years ago.

In Robles and other cases on this issue, courts have cited Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”) 2.0 as an acceptable standard. The WCAG is a part of the Web Accessibility Initiative, which develops standards and materials to help others understand and implement accessibility.

Although not required by non-government websites in the United States, many countries and organizations already require WCAG 2.0 compliance. Until the DOJ clarifies what ADA compliance means for websites, following WCAG guidelines appears to be a safe option for businesses.

Given that places of “public accommodations” and general website compliance standards are vague, businesses should take steps to ensure that their websites and apps are accessible to visually impaired and disabled individuals. The growing number of ADA Website Accessibility Lawsuits in California is expected to rise throughout 2019.