by Lindsey Berg-James, ESQ
You all know that your offices and places of business must be accessible to persons with disabilities, but what about your websites? A significant new court decision from San Bernadino County holds that all California businesses operating a website for use by customers and other members of the public must also be accessible and meet the standards set by not only the Americans with Disability Act (“ADA”) but also California state law.
In Davis v. BMI/BND Travelware, a blind customer sued a luggage retailer, claiming the retailer’s website posed “pervasive” accessibility issues for users with visual impairments. Specifically, the customer claimed the website lacked alternative text for linked images, had empty links with no text and was missing form labels. The Superior Court judge agreed, finding that the website denied the customer “full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, privileges and accommodations offered by [the retailer] because of his disability.” The court ordered the retailer to pay the customer $4,000 in damages under California state law. The court also issued an injunction requiring the retailer to take steps necessary to make its website accessible to and usable by visually impaired individuals, or to terminate the website.
Because Davis is a trial court decision it is not binding on any other court and does not guarantee that other cases will be decided in the same manner. Still, the decision should serve as a warning to businesses that operate websites used by the public. The Davis case is only one of several cases filed in the past year attempting to apply the ADA to business websites. Depending on the success of those cases, businesses should expect increased litigation over this issue in this future.
Given this uncertain and developing area of the law, businesses must be aware of the risks that come with maintaining a website that does not meet generally recognized standards of accessibility for customers with visual or other types of disabilities. Businesses may wish to hire a website accessibility consultant to perform an assessment of the website and to assist in making any necessary changes to make the website more accessible to individuals with disabilities. If you are a new business or are considering launching a new website, speak with your website developer to ensure compliance with applicable access laws.
© 2016 Noland, Hamerly, Etienne & Hoss