While brokers should still strive to make websites accessible for disabled users, an appeals court ruling suggests that until wording of the current law is changed, websites are not places of public accommodation. The issue remains fluid, but it may bring relief to brokers facing ADA website accessibility lawsuits.
WASHINGTON – Must a business’s website be accessible to people with disabilities under the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? A South Florida court said that it did, but on appeal, the appeals court issued a ruling raising doubts about that decision.
In the case, a visually impaired Floridian sued the Winn-Dixie supermarket chain because he couldn’t access the prescription refill system and coupon rewards since Winn-Dixie’s website wasn’t compatible with his screen reader software. The South Florida court ruled against Winn-Dixie, finding it violated Title III of the ADA.
The appeals court ruling “vacated and remanded” the issue back to the South Florida court to reconsider its original decision. The ruling was based on the appeals court’s finding that websites are not a “place of public accommodation,” since websites are not on the list of places defined as such in Title III of the ADA.
Furthermore, the appeals court found that Winn-Dixie’s website incompatibility with the plaintiff’s software wasn’t an “intangible barrier” because it did not bar “equal access to the services, privileges, and advantages of Winn-Dixie’s physical stores,” otherwise violating Title III of the ADA. This prong of the analysis is fact specific, which is noteworthy. Future determinations of a Title III violation will depend upon a disabled person’s equal access to that business.
“This doesn’t mean Realtors should stop trying to ensure their website is accessible to the disabled,” says Meredith Caruso, Florida Realtors® associate general counsel. “However, it does provide a bit of a breather as the South Florida court reconsiders this matter.”
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