Website Accessibility

A landmark for website accessibility.

A recent trial on June 13th brought an unprecedented court ruling in the field of web accessibility. The plaintiff, a blind man named Juan Carlos Gil, filed a lawsuit against grocery store Winn-Dixie on the grounds of having an inaccessible website. Robert Scola, Florida federal District Court Judge, ruled in favor of the plaintiff based on Gil’s evidence of website inaccessibility, and found grocer Winn-Dixie in violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Juan Carlos Gil is legally blind and visually impaired, and in order to navigate the internet he uses screen reader software. Gil is capable of using the computer but cannot see the screen, so the access technology translates information to him directly from the website. When he heard that Winn-Dixie had a website that gave customers access to coupons and discounts, he attempted to navigate the website, only to find that 90% of the tabs did not function with his access technology.

 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed on July 26, 1990 to prohibit discrimination and ensure equal opportunity for people with disabilities in the education, employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation sectors. Under ADA, universities can no longer discriminate against the deaf and hearing-impaired students for lack of educational video captioning and leave the students at a disadvantage.

How does this verdict differ from other website accessibility cases?

In the past year and half, there have been over 106 lawsuits regarding business accommodation accessibility. What makes this ruling discordant with previous web accessibility cases are the requirements placed on Winn-Dixie. Previously, when judges ruled in favor of the plaintiff, the defendant would have been forced to fix an individual compliancy or accessibility issue with little regard to the general accessibility of their website. In this case, Winn-Dixie is being forced to modify their entire website, including parts of the website operated by third party vendors, which will cost them anywhere from $37,000-$250,000.

Find the full verdict here.

 

What are the implications of the verdict for other businesses?

Judge Scola alleged the proposition that “where a website is heavily integrated with physical store locations, courts have found that the website is a service of a public accommodation and is covered by the ADA”. Since the ADA requires that disabled individuals are provided “full and equal enjoyment of goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations of any place of public accommodation”, all businesses that use their websites as a gateway to store locations are subject to scrutiny. Judge Scola’s draft injunction also cites the WCAG 2.0 as the standard for accessibility.

A case of this magnitude will heighten expectations of accessibility for businesses throughout the country. Companies will face increased encouragement to modify their websites in order to improve accessibility, and many will be forced to refer to the WGAC 2.0 guidelines to tackle the issue.

Gil’s attorney went on to state that the trial decision would “send a message far and wide that the (Americans with Disabilities Act) does not stop at the storefront.”

 

Is your website compliant with accessibility guidelines?

While making all of your content accessible can be daunting, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3W) has laid out everything a website needs in order to be accessible. The W3W put together the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) which outlines specific regulations. In phase 2.0, WCAG sets forth specific guidelines and action items for web developers that make web content more accessible to people with disabilities.

Centered around four principles, Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust, and further broken into 12 specific guidelines, WCAG 2.0 compliance is the key to a confident “Yes, our website is accessible.”

4 compliance requirements infographic.

Where do you start in making your content accessible?

Accessibility is best achieved from the start — hire a web developer or designer who is experienced in WCAG 2.0. Retrofitting established websites is more difficult, but not impossible. You can easily take small steps each month to improve accessibility, whether adding alt tags to images or enlisting a captioning provider.

And if you really want to get ahead of the game, check out our WCAG 2.0 quick guide for audio and video.