All You Need To Know About Website ADA Compliance In Florida
Sandy beaches and theme parks may come to mind when you think of Florida. But, who would’ve thought that the state would also grab attention for its website accessibility lawsuits?
If you own a website or sell to residents from Florida, it’s important to ensure that your website is accessible to everyone.
In 1990, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed to prevent discrimination against persons with disabilities in all areas of public life.
Part of this act covers services operated by private entities hence the wave of Website accessibility in Florida claims.
To understand ADA compliance for websites, let’s get into the guide below:
Overview of ADA Compliance in Florida
Florida introduced web accessibility standards to ensure equal access for all citizens, including those who suffer from physical, visual, cognitive, or auditory impairments.
Meaning any website that did not accommodate differently-abled people, from county governments like Palm Beach County to private businesses like the Miami Heat basketball team’s online store, could face a lawsuit under ADA.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
The 2020 Florida Statutes mandate state agencies to develop and use accessible electronic information and information technology in line with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
These guidelines address the accessibility of all web content, including websites, applications, video, and audio.
Its objective is to make content more accessible to persons with disabilities, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hard-of-hearing, and limited movement.
Website Accessibility Lawsuits
Florida is second only two New York in terms of website accessibility lawsuits.
Per the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, Florida accounts for some 25 percent of all website accessibility lawsuits.
There have been 302 lawsuits in 2020, 526 in 2019, and 576 in 2018.
This downward trend is expected to continue after the groundbreaking court decision in the 2017 Gil v. Winn Dixie case reduced the number of websites covered by the ADA.
It held that only websites whose inaccessibility creates an intangible barrier to access to the goods, services, and facilities of a place of public accommodation could be sued.
Do note that in the past few years, digital accessibility has increased greatly in Florida.
The lawsuits are teaching companies to prioritize making their websites ADA compliant to prevent costly legal battles.
Florida State Digital Accessibility Requirements
As we indicated in the previous section, all state government branches must comply with mandates under Section 508 when developing, maintaining, competitively procuring, or using electronic information or information technology.
The 1998 amendment Section 508 to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 deals with the needs of Americans with disabilities.
Aside from complying with Section 508, state websites must be usable persons with disabilities, or they will face civil action.
There is an exemption for when compliance with these regulations ends up becoming an undue burden. In these cases, the state agency must find alternative means to provide information to persons with disabilities.
Section 508 revision in 2017 considers WCAG 2.0 – Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which are comprehensive guides for web accessibility.
This revision also mandates that software and operating systems are required to be compatible with the varying assistive technologies.
WCAG 2.1, the most up-to-date standard of WCAG, outlines three levels of compliance, i.e., A, AA, and AAA. Higher the level, the more compliant your website is.
Florida state agencies are, however, not required to meet WCAG 2.1. But they are encouraged to use this latest standard to promote inclusivity.
How to Ensure ADA Compliance for your Website in Florida?
These mandates also apply if the website helps people in finding out the location of the physical store.
A person with a disability may file a lawsuit against your company’s inability to access or use your website.
Neither the Supreme Court nor any of the Circuit Court of Appeals has passed judgment on whether a private business’s website must be ADA compliant.
The 11th Circuit Court has in the past held that Title III does extend to non-physical spaces.
For example, in the case of Rendon v. Valleycrest, the court concluded that Title III applied to a selection process by telephone, which screened potential contestants for a TV show.
The court said the process impeded disabled individuals from being on the show.
Let’s take a look at three notable cases concerning the website ADA Compliance in Florida.
Gill vs. Winn Dixie
A visually impaired plaintiff, who also had ALS, Juan Carlos Gil, sued Winn Dixie, claiming its website violated the ADA in 2017 because aspects of the site weren’t compatible with screen readers.
He said he was unable to order his medications online.
The website in question allowed customers to:
- Locate physical Winn Dixie store locations
- Fill and refill prescriptions for in-store pickup or delivery
- Learn about Winn Dixie brand items, access home-cooking recipes
- Receive information about product recalls
The initial trial concluded that Winn Dixie violated ADA compliance. The parties agreed that the company did not have an ADA-compliant website.
But Winn Dixie argued that it did not have to be compliant because the website is not a place of public accommodation.
A Southern District of Florida held that the website needed to be ADA compliant, explaining that the website was not a place of public accommodation by itself but was instead a connection to a place of public accommodation.
The site’s inaccessibility for persons with disabilities would mean they are unable to use Winn Dixie’s services.
These included allowing customers to locate Winn Dixie stores and also refill prescriptions for delivery or in-store pickup.
However, this decision was reversed at the 11th Circuit after the judge claimed the website’s inaccessibility didn’t create a barrier that kept the plaintiff from going to the store.
Gomez v. Bang & Olufsen
In this case, Andres Gomez, a blind man, tried to access the website of a brick-and-mortar store. The website had information about store locations and the ability to schedule appointments with store reps.
Though the store’s website was not ADA compliant, the court held that it did not have to be ADA compliant because it did not impede a disabled person’s ability to patronize the brick-and-mortar store.
In addition, the court said ADA does not require businesses to create full-service websites for disabled persons.
Haynes v. Pollo Ops
This case saw Dennis Haynes, a blind man, sue the defendant company, Pollo Operations, claiming he could not access its website and, as a result, was denied full and equal access.
The company filed to dismiss the case because there was no specific claim.
But the Southern District of Florida granted the company’s action and held that the lack of access did not impede Dennis Haynes’ access to the company’s location.
Unlike in the Gil case, where the Winn-Dixie website allowed customers to fill and refill prescriptions, the court in this instance held that not getting information about a company’s public accommodation did not suffice as a violation of ADA.
Website Accessibility and ADA Compliance Solution
Your business could find itself hemorrhaging thousands of dollars if you risk not making your website ADA compliant.
Even though your heart may be in the right place, and discrimination may be unintentional, but this won’t make the burden and financial toll of a lawsuit any less.
So instead of wasting valuable resources on lawsuits, you should invest in making sure your website is ADA compliant.
This process starts with an audit to flag areas where your website is lacking in terms of accessibility. It could be a manual audit or automated.
A useful tool is this accessibility checker to audit your website.
Manual audits, which will take longer and cost more, can also leverage insights from automated scans, which can immediately locate the bulk of your accessibility issues.
When you embark on your manual audit, have these steps in mind.
Step 1: Check each page against guidelines
The most time-consuming part of an audit but also the most important. For this, you should get an expert to check your website against the WCAG 2.0 AA or WCAG 2.1 AA criteria.
It involves the examination of code or simply perusing different pages of the website to check for consistency.
Some testing also accompanies this to make sure everything works as it should.
Step 2: List the issues for each page layout
Once you identify the accessibility, they should be listed in chronological order to sync with the page and be easy to identify later on.
Step 3: Rank issues in order of severity
You could consider this an optional step after listing the issues, but it does also help to provide a severity level.
It will allow your design team to prioritize critical issues first, especially if you have resource constraints.
Step 4: Provide clear remediation instructions
After listing the ADA compliance issues with your website, your design team should provide instructions or examples of code.
With this, you will know exactly the changes to make to ensure your website is accessible to persons with disabilities.
Your remedy efforts will likely involve the incorporation of assistive technology to make your content accessible.
To Wrap Up!
Do not wait for someone to complain about your website or, in the worst-case scenario, a lawsuit to make your website ADA compliant. Instead, you should go to the socially responsible route and promote inclusivity.
Ensuring you are ADA compliant will save you from lawsuits and enhance your brand value. You should remember that non-compliance with ADA policies means that you are turning away persons with disabilities who are potential customers.
Over 500,000 people in Florida have a visual disability, and you would not want to miss out on reaching such a significant portion of the market.
When you adhere to ADA standards, you must remember that you give people with disabilities the care and attention they deserve.
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