In 1994, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law, prohibiting discrimination in “any place of public accommodation.” People with physical handicaps filed lawsuits against restaurants and other structures forcing them to install ramps and make related accommodations.
Now, 25 years later, a new trend has emerged where businesses are being sued under the ADA based on claims that their websites are places of public accommodation and are not fully accessible to people with various impairments. Often, these lawsuits center on the fact that, although a visually impaired person can use a “screen-reader” to convert text on a website to audio, if there is no subtitle to a picture or image, such a user would have no way of knowing that a picture or image exists, let alone what it might be.
My personal breakthrough on this one came about a year ago while serving on the City of Mexico Beach Planning and Zoning Board. One of the five board members I serve with has physical disabilities. We review the cases of business owners and homeowners alike seeking variances for their properties. One night, a store owner was making his case why he was not legally obligated to add a wheel chair ramp to the sidewalk being poured in front of his new shop, because there was one within the required distance, about 50 feet away or so. We listened as the councilman explained what it’s like to get his wheelchair in and out of his car, and how he needed the extra width afforded with a handicap parking space. He said he’d be a customer but if he had to do all that, then wheel 50 feet down the other way through the parking lot to access the ramp then wheel back up the sidewalk, he probably wouldn’t do it. The shop owner decided that, even though it wasn’t a legal requirement, it was the right thing to do and said he’d spend the extra $450 for the ramp. It was a good feeling to see people working together and compassionate towards the limitations that some others have.
Just last year, Winn-Dixie Supermarkets lost a trial based on claims that its website discriminated against visually impaired individuals…
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