When creating a commercial website, a company has a number of concerns and priorities, such as functionality, design, and search engine optimization. One consideration that is often overlooked, however, is whether the site will be accessible to individuals with disabilities. In view of a recent federal court decision, businesses may want to start focusing more on that factor, or risk violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., a federal district court in Florida found that the supermarket chain Winn-Dixie had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to make its website accessible to the blind. The plaintiff, a visually impaired man, had sued Winn-Dixie under the ADA because he was unable to access store coupons or refill prescriptions on the store’s website. He complained that the website was not compatible with screen-reader software often used by the visually impaired, thus denying him the full and equal enjoyment of what Winn-Dixie offered to sighted customers.
The court, following a non-jury trial, agreed. Finding that the store’s website is “heavily integrated with Winn-Dixie’s physical store locations and operates as a gateway to the physical store locations,” the court held that the ability to access digital coupons and online pharmacy services are “services, privileges, advantages, and accommodations” that the plaintiff had been denied due to the site’s incompatibility with screen-reader software. The court further found that Winn-Dixie had not shown that making the website accessible to the blind would be unduly burdensome.
Although the Winn-Dixie case did not address employment or HR-related aspects of the supermarket’s website, it is certainly conceivable that the rationale used by the court could be applied to such factors. For example, if a site has a “careers” section on which job postings are displayed, or through which candidates can directly apply for a position with the company, that section should be accessible to the disabled. Those companies doing business with the federal government also have additional obligations as to specific wording and postings that need to be accessible to all job seekers accessing their job postings.
In light of the Winn-Dixie decision, employers would be prudent to review their websites to ensure that they are compatible with screen-reader software and thus fully accessible to individuals with disabilities.
If you have questions about website accessibility under the ADA or if you are a federal contractor and want the list of required language on your Careers page, please contact one of PMP’s experienced HR professionals.