Are floodgates open for US citizens to sue companies over inaccessible websites?

There’s been some great news from the US for fans of web accessibility; a spate of cases brought by blind people against companies who are breaching discrimination law by failing to make their websites accessible, have been upheld by judges in America.

There are very good legal reasons to think about accessibilityWebsites in the US and UK are legally obliged to be accessible to disabled people (under the Americans with Disabilities Act or the UK Equality Act), but few websites are truly inclusive to those who have disabilities such as sight or hearing loss. 

A new era for web accessibility cases

In the eyes of the law, disabled people are being discriminated against, but up until now it appears that few cases have been brought or upheld against websites and business owners around the accessibility of their sites. However, according to the US disability rights lawyer, Lainey Feingold, it looks like times are changing.

In recent months, judges in four different cases have upheld complaints against companies regarding the accessibility of their websites.

June saw what Feingold believes to be the first trial of its kind under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In Florida, a blind customer of the Winn-Dixon grocery chain, brought a court order against the company because he could not read the store’s online coupons using his screen reader or use other features on the site.

 After a two-day trial, the court ruled in the customer’s favour, however, Winn-Dixie has decided to appeal. It comes a decade after the high profile case which saw US chain Target ordered to pay more than $6 million in damage for failing to make their website accessible.

In the same month, a California judge upheld a case brought by a blind customer of arts and craft brand Hobby Lobby. And in July, a judge in a New York federal court ruled that a web accessibility case against Five Guys restaurant chain should continue.

Biggest support yet for web accessibility?

This month, in what is perhaps the strongest support for web accessibility in the past several years according to Feingold, a federal judge in New York issued a “blistering and passionate defense of web accessibility” in refusing to throw out a web accessibility case against Blick Art Materials.

The Target case took three years and so we might not see the results of these cases for quite a while, but the fact that more companies are being challenged is a positive step for anti-discrimination.

Look out for more on this in up-coming blogs by AbilityNet's head of digital inclusion, Robin Chistopherson.

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