Website Accessibility in the Hot Seat

by: David Titmus

Website accessibility has become a hot topic in the judicial system as more courts are ruling that websites are places of public accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Store websites are common for retailers these days, and businesses need to ensure their online presence is just as accessible as their brick and mortar storefronts.

Website accessibility is enforced though the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, and strives to ensure that all public and private places are open to the general public.

The question recently popping up before the courts is whether business websites are considered places of public accommodation and should, therefore, be held to the same ADA standards as their physical-location counterparts? Though there are cases still working their way through the system, the initial answer appears to be “yes.”

A U.S. District Court in Florida this summer ordered supermarket Winn-Dixie to make its websites accessible to people with visual impairments and, earlier this month, a U.S. District Court Judge in New York ruled Blick Art Materials’ website a place of public accommodation and, thus, subject to ADA requirements. Additionally, in 2012, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) took Netflix to court arguing that the streaming service provider did not include closed captions of its video content and, therefore, was in violation of the ADA. Netflix argued that their streaming videos were only available to paid subscribers, making their website a private, not public, place. The court ruled in favor of NAD.

Companies interested in learning more about website accessibility and compliance can seek guidance from the ADA, which has created several tools that web developers can use when building and designing sites. Many of the ADA recommendations are easy to incorporate with little cost, such as the use of assistive technology like a ‘screen reader’ that helps blind individuals navigate websites by describing what is on the computer screen.

Those in the deaf and hard of hearing (DHOH) community also can use tools to better access online content, with the most common being closed captions. Adding captions to a webpage’s audio content — whether it be videos or streaming lectures — goes a long way to satisfying accessibility requirements and creates a better, more enjoyable experience for all online customers.

Click here to learn more about creating a more accessible online presence.