Online Internet grocer Peapod, LLC and parent company Ahold U.S.A., Inc. reached a settlement with the Department of Justice over charges that the company violated the Americans with Disabilities Act because its Web site and mobile app were inaccessible to those with disabilities.
Peapod provides consumers with the ability to remotely and independently browse, shop, and purchase groceries for home delivery. But a compliance review by the DOJ under Title III of the ADA found that disabled individuals were unable to fully participate in and benefit from the defendants’ services, the government alleged.
For example, the DOJ alleged that blind consumers, or those with limited vision, could not use Peapod’s site or apps because certain images, buttons, and form fields were unlabeled or had inaccurate alternative text. It further alleged that pop-up modal windows were not reported to screen readers, tables were missing header information, frames were not named or identified, and boldface type was used to show which fields were required.
Inaccurate captioning for videos on the site also rendered it unusable for deaf or hard-of-hearing customers, the DOJ said, and individuals with physical disabilities that would impact manual dexterity faced barriers because the Java script used on the site was not available to those who cannot make use of a mouse.
While Peapod disputed the DOJ’s findings and allegations of ADA violations, the company elected to settle the charges. The defendants agreed to future compliance with Title III of the ADA by ensuring that the mobile app and Web site conform to the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 Level AA (WCAG) by March 31, 2015 and September 30, 2015, respectively.
Going forward, the defendants promised to ensure that any addition, change, or update to the Web site or mobile app would also achieve compliance with the WCAG standards and to seek a commitment from third-party vendors to provide content that conforms, or can be made to conform, to WCAG.
As part of the settlement, Peapod will also designate a “Website Accessibility Coordinator,” reporting directly to a company executive, and adopt, implement, and distribute a DOJ-approved Web site and Mobile Application Accessibility Policy. To encourage feedback, the company must add a notice to its Web site about its accessibility efforts, providing a phone number for disabled customers to call when in need of technical assistance.
The agreement – in force for three years – additionally contained requirements for testing, employee training, and the retention of an independent “Website Accessibility Consultant” to verify compliance.
To read the settlement agreement, click here.
Why it matters: While compliance with the ADA for Web sites and mobile applications remains an unsettled question of law in the courtroom, the DOJ has not hesitated to bring actions against Web-based entities for perceived violations. Importantly, the DOJ announced plans to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in June 2015 to update the regulations implementing Title III “to address the obligations of public accommodations to make goods, services, facilities, privileges, accommodations, or advantages they offer via the Internet, specifically at sites on the World Wide Web, accessible to individuals with disabilities” and “make clear to entities covered by the ADA their obligations to make their websites accessible.” Advertisers should stay tuned.