A Florida man has brought a class action lawsuit against the Miami Heat Limited Partnership (“Miami Heat”) for violating Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Andres Gomez, the Plaintiff named in the website accessibility lawsuit against the Miami Heat, is alleging that, as a blind man, the Miami Heat’s online store does not provide him with full accessibility.
What can your business do to prevent website accessibility lawsuits?
The Foundation for Website Accessibility Lawsuits
Many business owners are aware of more traditional ADA lawsuits brought by people with disabilities who have been barred access to certain public accommodations. With the advent of the Internet, the brick and mortar presence of many companies has diminished, while online existence has grown exponentially. In turn, people with disabilities started bringing lawsuits against businesses when they could not successfully access the goods or services offered through certain websites. As the sample size of website accessibility lawsuits grows, it is noticeable that courts interpret “public accommodations” within the meaning of Title III of the ADA in one of two ways: (1) that the ADA applies only to websites that have a physical connection to goods or services available at a physical store location; and (2) that the ADA applies more broadly to online-only businesses.
The Allegations Against the Miami Heat
In Mr. Gomez’s website accessibility lawsuit complaint, he alleges that he visited the Miami Heat’s online store with the intent to gain access to the Miami Heat’s inventory for the purpose of purchasing products. As a blind consumer, Mr. Gomez was using screen reader software or other assistive technology to access the Miami Heat website and alleges that digital barriers prevented him from accessing the content available on the website. As a result, Mr. Gomez asserts that he has been discriminated against for his blindness and denied the full and equal enjoyment of the Miami Heat website.
Protecting Your Business Against Website Accessibility Lawsuits
The World Wide Web Consortium (“W3C”) is the primary international Internet standards organization that publishes technical criteria to achieve ADA compliance. On June 5, 2018, W3C published the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”) 2.1. Every version of the WCAGs have provided a tiered system for A, double-A, and triple-A compliance, with triple-A being the highest level of compliance. Courts that have found websites to be in violation of the ADA have ruled that websites must raise their standards to at least a double-A standard of compliance. Additionally, it is important for companies to be able to demonstrate that proactive measures have been taken to make their websites ADA compliant. One proactive measure is to post an accessibility policy outlining the measures that an applicable business has taken to make the website accessible for people with disabilities.