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Federal Court Wades Into Issue of Web Accessibility

Winn-Dixie, a chain of grocery stores, was sued by one of its shoppers because its website was not accessible to the disabled.

Juan Carlos Gil was a blind customer of Winn-Dixie. He wanted to be able to access the chain’s online website to download coupons and order prescriptions but it was incompatible with his screen reader software. He therefore sued the company for violating the Americans with Disabilities requirement that private company accommodate the disabled in public spaces. Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination based on disabilities in places of public accommodation. Whether a website is a place of public accommodation has yet to be expressly determined by the courts.

After a two-day trial, the Florida district court judge issued a verdict in favor of Mr. Gil. In the Winn-Dixie case, the court did not reach the issue of whether a website was place of public accommodation. Because Winn-Dixie’s website was “heavily integrated with Winn-Dixie’s physical store locations” and “operates as a gateway to the physical store locations,” Title III already applied. A three year injunction was issued by the court, requiring Winn-Dixie to modify its website to meet the standards in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. These standards were developed to ensure that websites were accessible to disabled individuals. Attorneys’ fees and costs were awarded to Mr. Gil. Winn-Dixie has indicated its intent to appeal the order.