Big Win for Blind Shopper in First U.S. ADA Web Accessibility Trial

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On June 12, a judge in the federal District Court in South Florida made history. That history came in the form of a court order in a lawsuit filed by blind Florida resident Juan Carlos Gil against regional grocer Winn-Dixie.

The lawsuit argued that the Winn-Dixie website wasn’t accessible. Mr Gil could not read the store’s online coupons using his screen reader or use other features on the site.

After a two-day trial the court ruled in favor of the plaintiff (Mr. Gil). That order is historic because it is believed that this is the very first trial in an ADA case about website accessibility against a private company, known legally as a public accommodation. Read the Seyfarth Shaw blog post that identified the historic nature of this trial.

The judge ruled that it did not have to decide if the Winn-Dixie website was covered by the ADA in and of itself, because the website was “heavily integrated with Winn-Dixie’s physical store locations and operates as a gateway to the physical store locations.” [As you can read in the Digital Accessibility Legal Updates on this site, other courts have already ruled that websites are covered by the ADA even without any connection to a physical place.]

I am pasting here the text of the court’s conclusion, and the requirements the court imposed on Winn-Dixie on June 12. (In addition to what is below, the Court also set up a procedure for Mr. Gil to request his attorneys’ fees be paid by Winn-Dixie, an important aspect of a case when a plaintiff wins an ADA lawsuit. You can also read the full PDF version of the Court’s 13 page order.

After reviewing the facts and legal arguments made by both sides, the judge reached his conclusion:

Winn-Dixie has presented no evidence to establish that it would be unduly burdensome to make its website accessible to visually impaired individuals. To the contrary, its corporate representative unequivocally testified that modifying the website to make it accessible to the visual impaired was feasible. Remediation measures in conformity with the WCAG 2.0 Guidelines will provide Gil and other visually impaired consumers the ability to access Winn-Dixie’s website and permit full and equal enjoyment of the services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations provided through Winn-Dixie’s website. Gil has proven that he is entitled to injunctive relief.Robert N. Scola, Jr., United States District Judge in Gil v. Winn-Dixie

Then the judge told Winn-Dixie what the company needed to do. The following text is verbatim from the court order:

Terms of Injunction

The parties shall meet and confer to attempt to agree on the time periods for the following terms which shall be included in the injunction and shall file a joint report with their positions by no later than June 30, 2017. Any terms about which the parties agree shall be in regular font. For terms about which the parties disagree, the Plaintiff’s proposal shall be presented in underlined font and the Defendant’s proposal shall be in bold font. Any additional terms requested by either party shall also be included in the joint report.

Pursuant to the terms of this Order and Injunction, Winn-Dixie, Inc.:

  1. Shall not, no later than __(date)__________, deny individuals with disabilities, including the Plaintiff, the opportunity to participate and benefit from the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations provided through its website www.winndixie.com. The website must be accessible by individuals with disabilities who use computers, laptops, tablets, and smart phones.
  2. Shall not, no later than __(date)__________, provide individuals with disabilities, including the Plaintiff, an unequal opportunity to participate and benefit from the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations provided through its website www.winndixie.com. The website must be accessible by individuals with disabilities who use computers, laptops, tablets and smart phones.
  3. No later than ________(date)_______, shall adopt and implement a Web Accessibility Policy which ensures that its website conforms with the WCAG 2.0 criteria.
  4. No later than __(date)__________, shall require any third party vendors who participate on its website to be fully accessible to the disabled by conforming with WCAG 2.0 criteria.

Congratulations to Mr. Gil and his lawyers for this important victory in the quest for full digital equality for disabled people. Although this court order is binding only on the parties in this case, organizations everywhere should take notice. Wouldn’t it be better to start your accessibility initiative today, and not wait for the lawsuit?