ADA Compliance Is Now In Cyberspace
by: David Melton and Jared Mueller
Well, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has made its way into cyberspace. Target settled with the National Federation of the Blind for $6,000,000 and the payment of consultants to periodically monitor the website, in response to the United States District Court for the Northern District of California's ruling that a class of blind plaintiffs had properly stated a claim under the ADA because of their inability to adequately access Target.com's website. This leaves an incomprehensible number of website operators in doubt of their obligations under the ADA. Like their brick-and-mortar counterparts before them, is this just the first sign of an ADA lawsuit epidemic that will spread like wildfire throughout the Internet? Hopefully not.
For website operators without a physical location there does not appear to be reason to worry at this time. The ADA applies to discrimination against the disabled in places of "public accommodation." Under Ninth Circuit law, a "place of public accommodation" is a physical space. See Weyer v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. (9th Cir. 2000) 198 F.3d 1104, 1114. However, the Northern District Court held that a plaintiff may state a claim to the extent that the inaccessibility of a defendant's website impedes the full and equal enjoyment of goods and services offered in the defendant's physical location. National Federation of the Blind v. Target Corporation (2006) 452 F.Supp.2d 946, 956. It also held that, to the extent that the defendant's website offers information and services unconnected to the defendant's physical location, a plaintiff may not state a claim. Id. Target was held subject to the ADA because Target.com was found to be an extension of its stores, as part of its overall integrated merchandising efforts.
The Court explained, "The [Target.com] website is a means to gain access to the store and it is ironic that Target, through its merchandising efforts on the one hand, seeks to reach greater numbers of customers and enlarge its consumer-base, while on the other hand it seeks to escape the requirements of the ADA." Id. at 956, fn 4. This statement is an illustration of the vast difference of perspectives between the business and judicial worlds. The Internet is an expanding universe that presents a wealth of opportunities for businesses with and without brick-and-mortar stores. Contrary to the Northern District Court's belief, it is not that businesses are going there to escape the requirements of the ADA so much as that no business could imagine that the ADA requirements would ever apply there. Now, the court has extended the jurisdiction of the ever-expanding ADA to the ever-expanding Internet.
In Sacramento, multiple ADA lawsuits are filed on an almost daily basis due to inadequate physical facilities. One such lawsuit resulted in the controversial closure of Basketball Town, a recreational facility for local youth. For ADA attorneys, these violations are easy to find and the lawsuits are easy to file. Although compliance with federal law is a positive end, the means of litigation has proven costly to local businesses.
Businesses with websites that may be subject to the ADA should consider implementing technology that is compatible with screen reader software. The screen reader software vocalizes the website's text and describes the content. Also, if the screen reader can read the navigation links, a blind individual can navigate the site with a keyboard instead of a mouse. The National Federation of the Blind offers a certification for compliant websites. After all, as evidenced by the Target settlement, failure to comply with ADA requirements can be costly for a business's bottom line.