Not Everything on a Website must be ADA-Compliant says Federal Court

In general, the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) requires that businesses must accommodate those with disabilities when using their facilities and services. Over the past decade, federal and State courts have expanded the ADA accommodation rules to include websites (under many circumstances, but not all). That is, websites must be ADA-compliant by using “translation” software to accommodate those with visual and hearing disabilities. The software will “translate” visual images into an audio description for the visually impaired. Audio will be “translated” into text for the hearing impaired; however, as discussed below, there are exceptions. Some websites do not need to be ADA-compliant, and not every element of a website or webpage needs to be ADA-compliant.

Not every website can be ADA-compliant.

As noted, not every website must be ADA-compliant. This is because the ADA does not explicitly cover accessibility for non-physical spaces and locations. Thus, federal and State courts have adopted a “hybrid” rule where ADA compliance is required if a website is linked to a brick-and-mortar location and the website’s main purpose is to drive consumer traffic to that location. So, for example, if a website has no connection to a physical location, then the ADA does not apply. See Winegard v. Newsday, LLC, Case No. 19-CV-04420 (US Dist. Court, ED New York 2021).

Groundbreaking Accessibility Case-Gomez v. Trinitas

According to a new court ruling, even if the ADA applies to a website, not everything on the website must be ADA-compliant. This was holding a case called Gomez v. Trinitas Cellars, LLC., Case No. 3:21-cv-09006 (US Dist. Court, N.D. California, June 17, 2022). The Plaintiff, in that case, was/is visually impaired and sued for the alleged ADA noncompliance of the Defendant’s winery website.

Plaintiff alleged several ADA violations. First, Plaintiff argued — and the facts demonstrated this to be true — that not all of the website features had text equivalents. In particular, there were no text equivalents for the Trinitas logo, the menu, and the icons for Trinitas’s social media. The Court rejected this argument for reasons of standing. Standing requires some actual injury. The Court concluded that the failure to have text equivalents for these particular website elements did not deprive Plaintiff of his accommodation rights under the ADA.

The Court recognized that it “may have been ideal for that banner to be readable, but that does not mean it shows a cognizable injury or violates the ADA.” Further, the Court noted no “connection” between the elements with no text equivalents and the physical location at issue. The website banner, for example, “just states the name of the business.” The lack of text equivalents for these website elements did not present a barrier to Plaintiff’s ability to enjoy the accommodations offered by Defendant.

The case could be reversed on appeal because of some legal pushback against an all-encompassing requirement of being ADA-compliant. This concept is also supported by the “reality” that not everything on a website can be ADA-compliant. See link NY Federal Judges say the ADA does not apply to websites. For example, this media report called “100% ADA compliance is a lie.”

As for Plaintiff’s other arguments, the Court rejected them for evidentiary reasons.

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