In June 2017, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida found that the operator of the Winn-Dixie grocery store chain violated the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 because its website was not accessible to a visually impaired patron using screen reader software.[1]

In 2015 and 2016, Winn-Dixie spent millions of dollars developing a new website, which included features such as online prescription refills, digital coupons, customer rewards card integration, and a store locator function. Winn-Dixie’s development plans did not include providing website accessibility for disabled persons.

Juan Carlos Gil, who is legally blind, brought a claim under Title III of the ADA after he was unable to navigate Winn-Dixie’s website with standard screen reading software.

Title III of the ADA prohibits the owner of a place of public accommodation from discriminating “on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation….”[2]

Many types of business establishments, including grocery stores, restaurants, hotels, hospitals, and professional offices of health care providers, are listed in the ADA’s definition of a “public accommodation.”[3] Websites are not specifically mentioned. However, as the court noted, “if the website is heavily integrated with physical store locations and operates as a gateway to the physical store locations, courts have found that the website is a service of a public accommodation and is covered by the ADA.”

The court considered the features of Winn-Dixie’s website to be “undoubtedly services, privileges, advantages, and accommodations offered by Winn-Dixie’s physical store locations” and noted that Winn-Dixie’s online features were “especially important for visually impaired individuals.”

Winn-Dixie was ordered to modify its website to comply with version 2.0 of the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Winn-Dixie was also ordered to pay Mr. Gil’s attorneys’ fees. Winn-Dixie, which claimed to have already implemented a plan to make its website compatible with screen readers, is currently appealing the decision.

The WCAG 2.0 guidelines have become the industry standard for website accessibility and are available online.[4] The guidelines were finalized in 2008 by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). W3C is the main international standards organization for the Internet.

The Winn-Dixie case highlights the importance of understanding that the ADA can extend beyond mere brick and mortar locations. Websites, mobile apps and other technology must be evaluated to determine whether they are integral to the business and should comply with the ADA’s accessibility requirements.

Footnotes

[1] Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., No. CV 16-23020-CIV, 2017 WL 2547242 (S.D. Fla. June 12, 2017)

[2] 42 U.S.C.A. § 12182

[3] 42 U.S.C.A. § 12181

[4] https://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/wcag