- A federal judge in Miami last week ruled Winn-Dixie violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by not making its website available to blind and visually impaired individuals, according to the Columbus Dispatch. The case could have far-reaching consequences around retailers’ need to make their websites accessible to disabled individuals.
- The ADA doesn’t specifically discuss website accessibility, but according to the Miami ruling, the retailer’s site constituted a “place of public accommodation” that falls under the law’s compliance.
- According to legal experts interviewed by the Dispatch, retailers that don’t have accessible websites may be subject to lawsuits similar to the one in Miami. The threat of bad publicity may compel many to update their sites, they said.
For many years, grocers’ websites didn’t offer much in the way of special features or information. These days, motivated by the need to offer an omnichannel shopping experience, grocers have updated their sites to include online shopping, daily and weekly deals, coupons, product information, supplier profiles and other useful tools that tie in with physical stores.
ADA compliance often isn’t part of that update. In the case of Juan Gil, the legally blind Miami resident who sued Winn-Dixie, the retailer’s site was incompatible with a reading program that Gil uses to navigate the web. After Gil was unable to fill his prescription online — something he said he likes to do because it’s private, and because prices are often lower — he took legal action and won a decision that requires the grocer to update its website.
Interestingly, it’s Winn-Dixie’s online investments and omnichannel integration that compelled the federal judge to rule that the website constituted a “place of public accommodation.” Websites aren’t specifically mentioned under the ADA, but according to Judge Robert Scola, Winn-Dixie’s online pharmacy is an integral part of the store, which is itself a public space.
The thought of spending more money to update their websites may annoy retailers under pressure to rein in expenses, but compliance seems to be pretty painless. According to an expert witness who testified on Gil’s behalf, Winn-Dixie would need to spend just $37,000 to make the appropriate update. As the Miami Herald noted in a related story, that’s less than half a percent of the $7 million Winn-Dixie spent to update its website back in 2015.