The Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) was passed into law in 1990. Among its many other provisions, the ADA required places of “public accommodation” such as retail shops and restaurants, to implement methods to accommodate the disabled. Hence we see ramps, rails in bathrooms, wider hallways and floor layouts to allow for easier wheelchair passage.
At the time of the law’s passage, the Internet was not a factor. However, of course, today websites like Amazon and other retail websites have replaced or supplemented the “brick and mortar” store. Increasingly advocates for the disabled have argued that websites are covered by the ADA.
Courts remain divided, and the matter will hopefully be resolved by legislation or clearer rule issued by administrative agencies.
The U.S. Department of Justice, which enforces the ADA, announced in 2010 that it would issue new rules for website accessibility, but that may not happen until next year. Pending that rulemaking, the Department of Justice indicates that Web Content Accessibility Guidelines developed by the World Wide Web Consortium provides a minimum standard.
In the meantime, lawsuits are being filed.
On August 1, 2017, a federal judge agreed with a blind plaintiff that a retail website was a place of accommodation subject to the ADA. The proper means of accommodating the plaintiff remain to be litigated. However, website owners should take steps to implement available technology to help people with visual impairments use their sites. Such steps may include allowing for a highly contrasted display, a screen reading capability, font changes and so on.
For more on the recent ruling, you may review this article from the New York Law Journal here.