On June 13, 2017, Judge Robert N. Scola Jr. of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida ordered Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc. to make its website accessible by persons with disabilities, including those who rely on screen readers and other adaptive software. See Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., Case 1:16-cv-23020-RNS (S.D. Fla. June 13, 2017). Judge Scola ordered the grocery store chain to implement a Web Accessibility Policy and to make its website conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 standards (WCAG 2.0).
The plaintiff, Mr. Gil, is visually impaired and relies on adaptive software including a JAWS screen reader. He is very familiar with the options for adaptive software and works to train others to use technology. He faulted the Winn-Dixie website for not allowing his screen reader to direct him to store locations, nor to access coupons or manage prescriptions through the pharmacy. Judge Scola found that Winn-Dixie, a public accommodation, violated the Americans With Disabilities Act in failing to provide individuals with disabilities, “full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation.” Slip Opinion at 10, quoting 42 U.S.C. §12182(a).
Even though Mr. Gil was not denied physical access to the store, Winn-Dixie violated the ADA because “[t]he services offered on Winn-Dixie’s website, such as the online pharmacy management system, the ability to access digital coupons that link automatically to a customer’s rewards card, and the ability to find store locations, are undoubtedly services, privileges, advantages, and accommodations offered by Winn-Dixies’ physical store locations. “ Slip Op. at 10. “Therefore, Winn-Dixie has violated the ADA because the inaccessibility of its website has denied Gil the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations that Winn-Dixie offers to its sighted customers.” Id.
Judge Scola further found that WCAG is the industry standard for accessibility, noting that the federal government’s Access Board (an independent agency that promotes equality for people with disabilities) virtually adopted the WCAG guidelines in a final rule published January 18, 2017. More information about the WCAG standards can be found at this link: Web Accessibility Initiative.
In recent years, website accessibility has become a hot issue. Lawsuits have increased against restaurants, schools and businesses by individuals and advocacy groups seeking to spread awareness of the need to make sites accessible. Business owners should think about accessibility at the initial stages of development for web applications and social media advertisements that link customers with their wares. Common website problems that make it difficult for persons using adaptive software and others with disabilities include:
Important images missing text descriptions (“alt tags”)
Important content accessible only by people who can use a computer mouse
Color combinations made text difficult or impossible to see by those with low vision
Videos not captioned
Graphs don’t line up