In a surprising move, the Supreme Court declined to hear a case that many thought would provide some guidance on what needs to be done to make websites compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The case, Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC, involved a blind man, Robles, who sued Dominos’ after he claimed that he was unable to order pizza from the company’s website. Robles won, with both the district and appellate courts finding that that the company failed in its duty to make the services provided on its website accessible to those with disabilities.
Domino’s appealed to the Supreme Court, and most legal observers expected the Court to take the case to provide some clarity on whether the ADA requires companies to make their websites accessible to those with disabilities, and if it does, what those companies need to do. So it was surprising when it declined to do so.
The argument that websites must be accessible to those with disabilities comes from Title III of the ADA, which mandates that all “places of public accommodation” are required by law to remove any “access barriers” that would inhibit a person with disabilities from accessing the businesses’ goods or services. When the law was passed in 1990 the Internet was on very few people’s radars, so Title III was meant to apply to brick and mortar establishments. Similarly, Title II, which requires governments to make their services available to those with disabilities, only was meant to apply to services the government provided in person at government facilities.
Robles argued that because so many services are now offered online, websites are “places of public accommodation” and therefore the ADA requires those websites to remove “access barriers” to those with disabilities. The courts that have ruled on this issue have generally agreed with this argument, and have extended it to apps, although they have not applied it to all websites and apps. Many courts have held that websites that provide services, like permitting someone to order pizza or letting people pay their water bills or file police reports, must be accessible to those with disabilities. Those that merely post information, like the names of public officials and the agendas for the next meeting of that body, are not “places of public accommodation” and therefore do not need to make their websites accessible.
Not that many courts have ruled on this issue though. There have been some rulings from West Coast, East Coast, and courts in the South, but no courts in Illinois or the Midwest have weighed in.
With that said, I would be surprised if a federal court in Illinois does not rule on this issue in the near future. And based on the rulings of other courts, I would expect the Illinois court to find that the ADA requires websites to be accessible. So companies and governments should consider doing this.
What does this require? The Robles court stated that employers should look at the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) which require accessible websites to be:
- Perceivable, which means users must be able to see, hear, or otherwise be able to access the information presented;
- Operable, which means that users must be able to use the interface;
- Understandable, which means that it should not be unduly difficult for users with disabilities to understand the information on the website;
- Robust, which means that the website must be up to date technologically.
The U.S. Department of Justice has issued a best practices guide for state and local governments to make their websites accessible to those with disabilities.
What are the downsides to making your website ADA compliant? It can be expensive—in the tens of thousands of dollars potentially. This can be prohibitive for smaller businesses and governmental bodies. With that said, the benefits of having an ADA compliant website could be well worth this cost. Just one lawsuit could result in tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of legal fees. Additionally, making your website accessible could increase sales, create positive PR, and help serve the disabled.
Contact me (tel: 312.604.9125; email: firstname.lastname@example.org) if you would like to know more about this issue and whether it is worth spending money to make your website accessible.