Web Accessibility for Grocers: Winn-Dixie Wasn’t Paying Attention

Winn-Dixie logo

On June 13, 2017 the Winn-Dixie grocery chain lost the very first trial under the Americans with Disabilities Act about the accessibility of a private company’s website. A blind shopper had sued the chain when he couldn’t access online coupons and other parts of the company’s website.

The judge’s verdict was big news; unlike most accessibility stories it was covered in the mainstream media including the Miami Herald and Forbes.

A judge’s verdict recognizing that websites need to be accessible under the ADA is welcome news to anyone who cares about civil rights and full participation in the digital age. And the Winn-Dixie verdict will hopefully be another catalyst causing the private sector to recognize the need for (and value of!) accessible digital content. Congratulations are in order for the plaintiff and the lawyers who obtained the verdict.

But web accessibility for grocery stores is nothing new.

If Winn-Dixie had been paying attention, it would have known over three years ago that grocery chains were making their websites accessible. Winn-Dixie should not have waited for the legal knock on the door. When it came, it should not have put up a fight.

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Safeway’s 2013 Web Accessibility Commitment

On December 13, 2013, Safeway issued a press release announcing its commitment to make its on-line grocery portal accessible to disabled customers. Safeway agreed to use the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA as its accessibility standard.

A Safeway Executive Vice President was quoted in the release:

Safeway has a long history of supporting our communities and people with disabilities. This decision is an important step towards helping our customers who are blind or visually impaired have a better shopping experience. —Larree Renda, Safeway Executive Vice President

The announcement was not a secret. It appeared in industry publications such as Progressive Grocer, Digital Commerce 360, and InStore, the Business of Retail Food Service.

The Safeway announcement was the result of a Structured Negotiation the company participated in with nine blind Safeway customers. The Law Office of Lainey Feingold, and Linda Dardarian of the Oakland civil rights firm Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho represented the blind shoppers.

The agreement includes many best practices for digital accessibility that Winn-Dixie could have adopted. Read Safeway’s December 2013 web accessibility settlement agreement. You can also read stories about the Safeway Structured Negotiation in my book, Structured Negotiation, A Winning Alternative to Lawsuits.

It’s too bad Winn-Dixie’s lawyers did not follow Safeway’s lead. Too bad they waited to get sued, too bad they fought the lawsuit when it arrived.

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Peapod Grocery Delivery’s 2014 Settlement with the Department of Justice

A year after Safeway worked with its blind shoppers in Structured Negotiation, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a settlement with Peapod, “America’s leading internet grocer.” In the PeaPod accessibility press release, then Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Vanita Gupta stated “We applaud Peapod for working cooperatively with the department and for its commitment to customers with disabilities.”

Peapod’s web accessibility settlement agreement with the DOJ is public. Why did Winn-Dixie ignore it in choosing to fight its customer’s lawsuit?

Had company lawyers read the settlement, they would have found a roadmap of good accessibility practices: use of WCAG 2.0 AA, designation of a web accessibility coordinator, posting of an Accessibility Information Page, and many other best practices.

You can read Peapod’s Accessibility Information Page here. Safeway’s web accessibility policy statement can be found here. Both sites link their accessibility policies to their site footers — exactly where they should be.

On the Winn-Dixie site? A search for “accessibility” brings up nothing about website access. Winn-Dixie wasn’t paying attention.

Simplified Summary

A blind person sued the Winn-Dixie grocery chain about access problems on the company website.  Winn-Dixie lost the case.  This was a victory for blind people and digital access.  Winn-Dixie should have paid attention to what other grocery chains were doing.  Safeway worked with its blind customers in 2013 to make its website easier to use.  Peapod settled with the United States government and agreed to make its website accessible.  Back to reading this post.