With online shopping more popular than ever, many brick and mortar stores have websites on which you can purchase store products. Winn-Dixie is one such institution; it operates a regional chain of grocery stores, some including pharmacies. Winn-Dixie’s website, which was launched in September of 2015, includes features like a store locator and coupons.
Miami resident Juan Gil is legally blind and uses screen-reading technology to access the internet, technology which has allowed him to access many websites. Sadly, this does not include Winn-Dixie’s website. Gil has shopped at Winn-Dixie between thirty and forty times, and has never been able to access all the information the Winn-Dixie website offers. His software could not read the content on Winn-Dixie’s website when he tried to order a prescription. Gil prefers to order prescriptions online, but Winn-Dixie’s inaccessible website made this impossible for him. On July 12, 2016, Gil sued Winn-Dixie saying that he felt “another door had been slammed in his face.” This resulted in the first case of its kind ever to go to trial: a major supermarket chain sued as a result of violating an individual’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The grocery chain recently spent $7 million to update their website in order to incorporate a rewards program for the store, but never discussed accessibility in the changes. An expert witness testified that most of the disability access issues on the site could be corrected with simple modifications costing approximately $37,000, a mere half a percent of the money spent on updating the site with the rewards program.
On June 13th of this year, Federal Judge Robert Scola Jr. ruled that Winn-Dixie’s website violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities act by failing to make its website accessible to disabled users. He concluded that the website’s incompatibility with standard screen-readers caused the plaintiff injury by denying him full and equal enjoyment of what the supermarket chain supplied non-disabled customers. While Judge Scola did not specifically rule whether or not Winn-Dixie’s website is technically a public accommodation, he confirmed that Title III applies if the website is heavily integrated with the physical stores and serves as a gateway to them. Scola vowed to impose an injunction mandating that Winn-Dixie come into compliance within a time frame that the parties were ordered to agree upon by the end of the month. Winn-Dixie will also be required to provide web accessibility training to employees who work on the site and ensure that third-party vendors that interface with the site also offer accessibility.
This verdict is especially significant one; the case addressed questions related to accessibility requirements for a public accommodation website under the ADA, and was the first full trial held in a federal court to make findings of fact regarding questions like these and to effectively adopt the WCAG2.0 as the standard for website compliance. It is also the first case of its kind to reward an injunction requiring specific measures. Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores essentially opens the possibility that any public website could be classified under Title III, and sets the precedent that any site with a corresponding brick-and-mortar store must be accessible.
With this changing landscape in mind, it is more important than ever to ensure website accessibility. Companies like inclüd are essential for many businesses to effectively ascertain the accessibility of their website and digital material; we can make sure that your content is meeting regulations and in doing so mitigate risk for your business, while you avoid the need to spend money for hiring IT or legal staff to protect your business’s interests. We can even create your content for you so you can start accessible from scratch. Rather than hiring one set of professionals to create your material and another to convert it, you can hire inclüd to do all the work for half the time, energy and cost.
The conclusion of this court case will impact the way businesses and individuals think about accessibility compliance in the future. Scola’s ruling has reinforced that even in this changing world of e-commerce, digital companies need to understand that physical accessibility still applies. The trail of Gil v Winn-Dixie Stores and resulting decision confirm that it is no longer a question of whether or not businesses need to make their websites accessible,, it is only a matter of how and when.