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Court: Business violated Americans with Disabilities Act with inaccessible website

June 23, 2017

By David Burger

For what is believed to be the first time, a court has ruled that failure to make a website accessible to people with disabilities violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

U.S. District Judge Robert N. Scola, in a nonjury trial in the District Court for the Southern District of Florida, issued a 13-page finding June 13 that said grocer Winn-Dixie violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act by having a website that was not useable by plaintiff Juan Carlos Gil to download coupons, order prescriptions and find store locations.  

Mr. Gil is visually impaired and uses screen-reader software to access websites. Judge Scola awarded Mr. Gil his attorneys' fees and costs and required Winn-Dixie to update its website.

In its verdict, Judge Scola wrote, "Winn-Dixie has violated the American Disabilities Act 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."

Winn-Dixie operates 495 grocery stores in Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia and Mississippi.

Title III of the act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodations — businesses that are generally open to the public and that fall into one of 12 categories listed in the act, such as restaurants, movie theaters, schools, day care facilities, recreation facilities and doctors' offices

Judge Scola wrote in his ruling that Winn-Dixie's website is a place of public accommodation because of its integration with its stores, and because it "operates as a gateway to the physical store locations."

Winn-Dixie pledged to appeal the ruling, said Anna Kelly, vice president of corporate and consumer affairs, in a statement. "We are disappointed with this ruling," she said. "While we are sensitive to the needs of the visually impaired and are currently improving our website, the legal position regarding website standards are unclear and we believe improvement can be achieved through customer dialogue, rather than through the courts. We believe our website is no better, or indeed no worse than thousands of other consumer-facing websites and we will certainly be appealing this judgment."

In a statement, Mr. Gil's attorney Scott R. Dinin said, "This decision will send a message far and wide that the (Americans with Disabilities Act) does not stop at the storefront." He called the decision a "landmark ruling for diversity and empowerment to the American people."

The Americans with Disabilities Act, which became law in 1990, prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation and all public and private places that are open to the general public.

There are steps that a dental practice can take to make their websites more accessible to individuals with disabilities, according to the ADA Division of Legal Affairs, which added that these steps may also reduce the risk of a claim under the act.
The ADA has sent information to all state dental societies about how to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act in regard to websites, said J. Craig Busey, ADA general counsel. He advises dentists to check with their respective state dental society for access to a white paper about the issue, which includes steps they can take to decrease the risk of a claim.

The steps include adding an accessibility link that directs individuals with disabilities to a webpage that tells them what to do if they can't access something on the website; asking a web designer if the website is accessible as designed and implemented; and temporarily disabling the website if it can't immediately be made accessible.

"A Dentist's Guide to the Law: 228 Things Every Dentist Should Know" (L756), from the ADA Catalog, includes sections on the Americans with Disabilities Act and its provisions affecting website development, including sample language for a web developer contract. Readers can save 15 percent on the book and all ADA Catalog products by using promo code 17131 until Sept. 15. To order, visit or call 1-800-947-4746.

PBHS, the only endorsed marketing services/website company by ADA Business Resources, also ensures that new clients, as well as existing clients, have websites that can be accessible to individuals with disabilities, said Jay Levine, president of PBHS. ADA members receive a $500 discount on their packages, a selection of free ADA online patient brochures and videos, plus a complimentary analysis of their current branding and online presence. For more information or to set up a free consultation, contact PBHS at 1-855-932-4232.