What’s Next for the Web Accessibility Movement?

The U.S. Supreme Court building.

Since the Robles v. Domino’s Pizza case in 2019, lawsuits over web accessibility have grown tremendously; from 2019 to 2020, the number of lawsuits increased by 23%, with California having the highest number of cases and retailers being the businesses that are targeted most often.

In the Domino’s case, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear arguments from the pizza chain about whether it was required to make its website accessible to people with disabilities — in this case, a blind man who was unable to order food through the chain’s website despite using a screen reader. The decision to leave a lower court’s ruling in place was a victory for accessibility advocates. 

And while the Domino’s ruling made headlines at the time, other legal developments have been brewing in 2021 that merit attention.

WATCH: Lifeblue CEO Phillip Blackmon discusses accessibility with Dallas TV station CW33.

One recent ruling revisits the Gil v. Winn-Dixie case from 2017, which was originally filed when a blind plaintiff claimed the Winn-Dixie website wasn’t fully accessible to him. The lower court ruled that the website violated ADA, but earlier this year, the 11th Circuit — covering Alabama, Florida and Georgia — reversed this decision, claiming that a website was not a “public place of accommodation” and the plaintiff wasn’t prevented from accessing goods and services at Winn-Dixie’s physical location.

While this decision in and of itself won’t have any impact on state and federal courts outside of Florida, Georgia and Alabama, this lawsuit does put more pressure on Congress to make a federal standard for web accessibility. 

In October, Ted Budd (R-N.C.) and Lou Correa (D-Calif.) introduced the Online Accessibility Act in the House of Representatives, attempting to solidify ADA compliance guidelines for websites and reduce the number of lawsuits filed. This act outlined complete compliance, but it required only substantial compliance to avoid legal penalties.

It failed to pass during the session that ended in January, and in February, the act was reintroduced with added support from Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.). This act would give a 90-day notice and remediation period for the defense and 180 days of investigation before a lawsuit could be filed. Legal observers have suggested that advocates for people with disabilities are not likely to support the legislation.

In other recent developments regarding web accessibility:

  • The push for explicit regulations on digital accessibility also continued in the sports world this year when a visually impaired plaintiff filed a class action against the Golden State Warriors in January. The plaintiff claimed the team’s website violated ADA as well as California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act as it wasn’t accessible to him. A similar suit was settled in 2018 with the Miami Heat.
  • The World Wide Web Consortium released the first public working draft of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 3.0 in January, broadening the scope of accessibility standards for more disabilities as well as for a range of technologies. The final guidelines aren’t expected to be completed for a few more years.

At Lifeblue, we believe that the internet is for everyone, and we aim to build websites that achieve the highest standards of accessibility; we also approach each project through the lens of inclusive design, which shows we value empathy as much as we value functionality. Contact us for more information on building a more accessible, inclusive digital presence for your brand.

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