If you’ve ever received a demand letter alleging that your company’s website isn’t accessible to the blind or visually-impaired, it’s likely that the claimant’s attorney attached a report outlining a number of accessibility errors on the website. That’s not surprising because most – if not all – major websites are likely to have some errors. But while some errors may affect a blind or visually-impaired person’s ability to navigate the website, others do not. One question that hasn’t been previously addressed by any court, though, is whether 100% accessibility is necessary to avoid liability under the ADA. A California district court recently opined that it is not. This is complicated by the fact that there are no government issued regulations relating to what standard of accessibility should even be considered. By default, the few courts that have required that a company ensure that its website is accessible to blind or visually-impaired people using assistive technology have looked to the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
Last year, Andres Gomez filed a lawsuit against Trinitas Cellars (among dozens of other companies) alleging that its website wasn’t accessible to blind or visually-impaired visitors. Among other things, Gomez alleged that various images on the winery’s website – including a logo at the top of each page and the icons for Trinitas’ social media sites at the bottom of those pages – lacked text equivalents, such that they could not be read by assistive technology, sometimes referred to as “screen reader software.” Although the court acknowledged these errors, it determined that they did not violate the ADA.
Both parties’ experts agreed that the Trinitas logo at the top site’s pages wasn’t readable by screen reader software. The court determined that although “it may have been ideal for that banner to be readable,” the plaintiff never explained how its lack of readability denied him full use or equal enjoyment of the site. The experts also agreed that the social media logos at the bottom of the site weren’t readable by screen reader software, either. Again, the court found that the plaintiff had failed to draw “even an arguable connection between this lack of readability and a barrier that would matter to the ADA or show a cognizable injury.”
This decision should give companies some leverage to fight website accessibility complaints when the alleged errors are not likely to impede a blind visitor’s ability to navigate the site. Unfortunately, that fight will likely require the use of experts and the development of facts through litigation. Nevertheless, it’s helpful to have one court acknowledge that 100% compliance with WCAG standards is not required to avoid liability. Hopefully, other courts will follow suit.