Does the ADA apply to websites?
In a March 2017 ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Honorable Robert N. Scola Jr. recognized that courts in the Eleventh Circuit (covering Florida, Georgia and Alabama) have consistently ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act does not apply to a website that is wholly unconnected to a physical location unless a plaintiff can establish a nexus between the website and the physical premises of a public accommodation like a hotel or a store. For example, an ADA suit was allowed to proceed when the plaintiff alleged that the inaccessibility of the defendant's website prevented him from purchasing the defendant's clothing online and prevented him from searching for physical store locations.
A month earlier, the Honorable Joan A. Lenard, a judge in the same district as Scola, seemed to come to a consistent conclusion with respect to an ADA website claim when she granted dismissal and wrote:
It appears that the Plaintiff never intended to utilize Bang and Olufsen's physical, retail location; but instead planned to order audio equipment online and have it delivered to his home. Plaintiff's grievance seems to be that Defendant's website does not provide a blind person with the same online-shopping experience as non-disabled persons. However, the ADA does not require places of public accommodations to create full-service websites for disabled persons. In fact, the ADA does not require a place of public accommodation to have a website at all. All the ADA requires is that, if a retailer chooses to have a website, the website cannot impede a disabled person's full use and enjoyment of the brick-and-motar store. To survive a motion to dismiss, Plaintiff must claim an actual (not hypothetical) impediment to the use of Defendant's retail location.
Because Plaintiff has not alleged that Defendant's website impeded his personal use of the retail locations, his ADA claim must be dismissed.
Also in March 2017, the Honorable S. James Otero, of the United States District Court, Central District of California, stayed an ADA website accommodation lawsuit against a major franchisor until the Department of Justice issues its new guidelines on ADA access and websites. Of note, the DOJ has been studying the issue since at least 2010.
Should you make your website ADA compliant?
There is no doubt that the ADA applies to websites if the website is designed to direct customers to goods and services sold at a brick and mortar store. Even if the website is so designed, websites may not get consistent rulings from courts. As such, it makes good business sense to have the website reviewed and, if needed, make reasonable accommodations for ADA compliance. It’s only a matter of time until suit is brought - it's a matter of when, not if.