Courts have come to different conclusions regarding whether Title III’s coverage is limited to physical spaces and whether a company’s website requires a nexus to a physical location to be subject to Title III’s protections. This uncertainty and lack of clarity regarding Title III’s scope is problematic for businesses that want to comply with Title III’s requirements, but do not necessarily want to foot the hefty bill for updating their websites consistent with the “gold standard” stated in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”) established by the World Wide Web Consortium (“W3C”) with the state of the law in flux.
Under Title III, no individual may be discriminated against on the basis of disability with regards to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases, or operates a place of public accommodation. Public accommodations include most places of lodging (such as inns and hotels), recreation, transportation, education, and dining, along with stores, care providers, and places of public displays.
Due to the increase in ADA website accessibility lawsuits and negative media coverage about them, the U.S. House of Representatives, by a 225-195 vote, passed legislation in February 2018, the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017, that would have amended the ADA to force prospective plaintiffs to first provide written notice of noncompliance to public accommodations – such as businesses operating public websites – before filing suit. The company would then have 60 days to come up with a plan to address the plaintiff’s concerns. However, that bill stalled in the Senate, where 43 Senators – enough to filibuster the bill – pledged in writing to block a vote on the Act. Therefore, it is unlikely to become law anytime soon, especially given the results of the midterm elections.
Ensure that in-house staff and contractors responsible for webpage and content development are properly trained. Distribute the Department of Justice technical assistance document “Accessibility of State and Local Government Websites to People with Disabilities” to these in-house staff and contractors on an annual basis as a reminder. This technical assistance document is available on the ADA Home Page at www.ada.gov.