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How Winn-Dixie's website accessibility loss may put your SMB at risk.

Posted by Hilary Hamblin on Nov 3, 2017 2:36:04 PM

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Earlier this summer, Winn-Dixie lost a lawsuit filed against it by Juan Carlos Gil. Gil, a blind Winn-Dixie customer, sued the grocery store because he could not use the Winn-Dixie website to search for coupons or refill his prescriptions. Gil has filed over 70 similar lawsuits alleging company websites violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Judge Robert Scola, of the Southern District of Florida ruled in favor of Gil because the Winn-Dixie website is so integrated with its physical stores that the website was also subject to ADA compliance.

Winn-Dixie employs over 35,000 people in over 1,000 stores across the southeast making it the second-largest supermarket chain in the southeast. But don’t be fooled into thinking smaller businesses are exempt from such lawsuits. Winn-Dixie’s loss should be a wake-up call to companies across the United States.

The U.S. Department of Justice issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in 2010 that indicated they intend to apply Title III of the ADA to website accessibility. A final ruling in what constitutes an ADA compliant website and who is subject to it is expected in 2018. For the last seven years, the courts have varied in how they’ve addressed suits filed due to non-compliant websites. Some courts hold websites are places of public accommodation thus falling under the Title III ruling. Other court decisions only require ADA compliance when the website is part of a company with brick-and-mortar stores. Whether your thinking about your medical clinic website, your retail store's site or your non profit's website, accessbility should be a top priority.

So what makes a compliant website? While we wait on the DOJ to hand out the specifics, the most commonly agreed on voluntary changes are listed by the W3C, an international consortium that develops web standards. (Find the most recent Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 here.)

These guidelines offer three levels of accessibility A, AA, and AAA with most companies aiming to comply at the AA standard.

The good news for your company is making a website ADA accessible is not difficult, generally not expensive and coordinates with many SEO best practices. If you are already in the midst of redesigning or building your website, talk to your developer about incorporating accessibility standards into your site as it’s built.

>>Read Next: Building an online presence: Your medical clinic website<<

Is My Website ADA Compliant?

What do these standards look like? Taken directly from the WCAG 2.0 website, the standards include four main areas:

  • Perceivable
  • Operable
  • Understandable
  • Robust

1 Perceivable

    • 1.1 Provide text alternatives for any non-text content so that it can be changed into other forms people need, such as large print, braille, speech, symbols or simpler language.
    • 1.2 Provide alternatives for time-based media.
    • 1.3 Create content that can be presented in different ways (for example simpler layout) without losing information or structure.
    • 1.4 Make it easier for users to see and hear content including separating foreground from background.
  • 2 Operable
    • 2.1 Make all functionality available from a keyboard.
    • 2.2 Provide users enough time to read and use content.
    • 2.3 Do not design content in a way that is known to cause seizures.
    • 2.4 Provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are.
  • 3 Understandable
    • 3.1 Make text content readable and understandable.
    • 3.2 Make Web pages appear and operate in predictable ways.
    • 3.3 Help users avoid and correct mistakes.
  • 4 Robust
    • 4.1 Maximize compatibility with current and future user agents, including assistive technologies.

As tempting as it is to delegate these changes to your IT department, resist that urge. It’s up to your marketing team to work with the IT department to ensure these standards are met without compromising the branding and message of your website.

Getting started may be as easy as assigning someone on your marketing staff to oversee the implementation of these changes or talking to your website management company about how your website already measures up.

Keep in mind, these standards are subject to change as technology and development trends change, so these will not be once-and-done updates. To protect your company from an expensive ADA lawsuit and to ensure all your customers, patients or clients have a pleasant online experience with you, it’s important to stay up to date on any ADA changes.

Finally, we aren’t attorneys. This blog post isn’t intended to be taken as legal advice. If you believe you need legal advice concerning the ADA compliance of your website, please contact your attorney.

If you need help redesigning your website and would like to incorporate these elements into your site, we’re happy to start the discussion. Just click here to schedule a consultation.

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