A web presence is necessary in today’s business world for companies large and small. In this article, we not a recent federal decision in the Second Circuit is a reminder that restaurants, and other businesses that may interface with the public, have additional responsibilities under the places of public accommodation provisions of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).
In this New York case, a blind woman, Cheryl Thurston, who relies on a screen reader to interact with websites was unable to read the menu on a restaurant’s website using her screen reader. She was unable to do so because the restaurant’s website was not designed to permit access using a screen reader. Ms. Thurston sued the restaurant for violations of Title III of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title III) and the ADA.
United States federal law requires public accommodations to be accessible to all people, including the blind, and prohibits discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, or national origin.” The definition of public accommodation within the Title III of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes “any inn, hotel, motel, or other establishment which provides lodging to transient guests.” The other establishment provision referenced here includes restaurants.
The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the woman, finding that the restaurant’s website fell within the category of “services …privileges, advantages, or accommodations of” a restaurant, which is a place of public accommodation under the ADA. In short Ms. Thurston proved that the restaurant’s website was inaccessible to blind users. The court issued an injunction mandating the restaurant complies with the current version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) published by the World Wide Web Consortium, a non-governmental international agency that sets the standards for the worldwide web.
The restaurant appealed the decision. The court of appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision holding that the trial court properly found that Title III of the ADA applied to the restaurant’s website. However, like the trial court, the court of appeals declined to declare that the restaurant was in violation of the ADA for not previously having implemented the standard. The restaurant is required to comply with WCAG 2.0 guidelines to make its website accessible to disabled people.
Why the Thurston Decision Matters
The decision in the Thurston case will have far reaching effects on many businesses, not just restaurants. In the past, to maintain a lawsuit alleging a violation of the ADA, a business patron would have needed to physically go to the business and be able to describe in the complaint what he or she “saw” that made the business non-compliant with the ADA. Now, all a business patron needs to do is try to engage with your business’ website.
Key Takeaways for Your Business’ Website Regarding ADA Accessibility
Businesses with websites should immediately investigate whether their websites are ADA compliant. Check with your website designer, webmaster, or advertising agency for guidance on how to comply with the WCAG guidelines to make your website ADA compliant.
Unfortunately, prior to implementing this change to your website, your business may get hit with a lawsuit or receive a threatening letter from an attorney about a lawsuit. Small businesses often wind up paying $5,000 or more to make the claim go away, which could increase your compliance costs substantially.
If you own a business in the East Bay Area including Fremont, CA near Newark, Hayward, Milpitas, Union City, San Leandro, Gilroy, San Jose or Santa Clara and you are seeking legal guidance on how to make your website ADA compliant or need counsel to represent your business threatened with a lawsuit for ADA non-compliance, get legal advice from a California business lawyer today.