Municipal Websites Should Comply with the ADA
Jan 13, 2020 | Written by: | Share
Lawsuits alleging that websites violate provisions of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) have spiked in recent years. One review of federal lawsuits estimates that over 2,000 lawsuits alleging ADA violations in websites will be filed in the United States this year, with an estimated 4% in New Jersey1. Although these lawsuits have focused on businesses, municipalities may wind up in the crosshairs.
Recently, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Domino’s Pizza’s website and mobile app qualify as a “place of public accommodation” under the ADA and, as such, are required to be accessible to individuals with disabilities. Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC, No. 17-55504 (9th Cir. 2019). Specifically, the plaintiff, a blind man, alleged that he was unable to order pizza because Domino’s designed its website and app in such a way that did not enable it to be read with screen-reading software. The District Court held that the website and app “facilitate access to the goods and services of a place of public accommodation.” Therefore, the Court held that the ADA “mandates that places of public accommodation, like Domino’s, provide auxiliary aids and services to make visual materials available to individuals who are blind.” (citing 28 C.F.R. §36.303). The Supreme Court denied Domino’s petition on October 9, 2019, thereby leaving the Ninth Circuits opinion in favor of the plaintiff.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has long recommended that websites of public agencies, such as municipalities, meet accessibility requirements under the ADA. Since June 2003, the DOJ has published a guidance document entitled “Accessibility of State and Local Government Websites to People with Disabilities,” urging state and local governments to ensure that their websites complied with the ADA. The DOJ has taken the position that ADA accessibility requirements apply to web sites, telephone access systems, and other “communication modalities of public accommodations.” Yet, no legislation specifically required municipal and state government websites to comply with the ADA. The Rehabilitation Act (29 U.S.C. §701 et seq.) was amended in 1998 to include Section 508 (29 U.S.C. §794d), which requires federal agencies to make their “electronic and information technology” accessible to people with disabilities. Section 508 was recently revised and updated to apply to federal agencies and contractors and to adopt the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 as accessibility requirements. However, Section 508 does not apply to state and local governments. It only applies to the federal government and its contractors. Moreover, New Jersey does not have any state specific accessibility laws applying to municipal governments. New Jersey had adopted compliance with Section 508 as a policy applied to state websites and information technology.
Nevertheless, with the rise in ADA accessibility lawsuits targeting websites and the decision in Robles, it is advisable that municipalities bring their websites and any associated mobile apps into compliance with the ADA. It is apparent that a municipal website would meet the definition of a “public accommodation,” much like Domino’s website. Web developers should be well versed in ADA compliance issues and may be able to aid in bringing municipal websites into compliance. Additionally, the U.S. Government Services Administration provides guidance on Section 508 compliance, which is a good benchmark.
Tara St. Angelo, Esq. concentrates her practice primarily in the areas of municipal and land use law. She was named to the NJ Super Lawyers Rising Stars list for State, Local and Municipal law by Thomson Reuters in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Contact Ms. St. Angelo at Gebhardt & Kiefer, PC at 908-735-5161 or via email.
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