Winn-Dixie Ruling Puts Spotlight on Web Accessibility

Court rules against grocery chain Winn-Dixie in web accessibility lawsuit. Here's what it means, and how teams can start providing more accessible web experiences.
Genevieve Nelson

Grocery chain Winn-Dixie's website was ruled to be out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in June. A Florida judge is requiring the company to update its website to meet accessibility requirements. This is the first time a ruling has gone this way. What makes this different from other lawsuits of the same nature?

Well, the Winn-Dixie website is inextricably linked to its physical stores, the ruling found.

This is ground-breaking. Any court ruling sets a precedent for the future, and we’re surely just seeing the beginning of these lawsuits. Almost any ecommerce website is backed by a physical store. And who is to say that it stops there? A college website application is often required for entrance to on-campus life. Even a marketing website is representative of a physical company that provides goods and services. Should these types of businesses be concerned that their web accessibility is up to snuff?

Taking Action

Marcie Lipsitt is an accessibility advocate working to single-handedly bring all of Kent County, MI school district websites into ADA compliance. She can pinpoint a non-compliant website in half an hour. While some don't like this technique, it is effective in a country where website accessibility is such a gray area. As a result of Lipsitt's efforts, Kent County Intermediate School District will be holding more trainings this year to provide more inclusive digital experiences.

Another such advocate, Tom Mundy, has sued more than 500 businesses in Los Angeles in the last three years for being in violation of the ADA. In California, a plaintiff can sue a business for an ADA violation and be paid out between $1,000 and $2,000. Mundy has had so many successes that he considers it his full-time occupation. It should be noted that Mundy is suing for physical violations, and not websites, but it's only a matter of time before this behavior spills over into the web world.

What does this all mean?

It means that people are starting to take accessibility seriously. Advocates can no longer be pushed away. Litigation is beginning to happen. This is a huge step for web users with disabilities.

However effective it may be, I don't think it's appropriate to make it your full-time job to nitpick every business that has an accessibility infraction. While lawsuits are sometimes necessary, I think there are other, more subtle, ways to advocate. We should be careful not to create a culture of fear around accessibility.

The point is not to overhaul your entire website right now because you are going to get sued. Rather, it is to do something. Get the ball rolling in the direction of inclusivity. Many accessibility changes (in the physical and virtual world) are easy to do.

Video Still of Web Accessibility Course

What can I do?

If you are an accessibility advocate, educate your co-workers or your clients on compliance matters. Most websites are not compliant because the creators/owners simply are not aware.

  • Video Captioning: Imagine you need to post several short marketing videos on your company's website. You're deciding between hosting your videos on Vimeo or YouTube. One factor you should consider is that YouTube provides an interface to either caption your videos or to allow YouTube to caption them automatically (this option is not always available). Vimeo does not have an equivalent service.
  • Back to the Basics: If you are a content administrator or a developer, you can start by learning about alternate text for images, captioning for videos, and proper color contrast ratios.
  • Free Accessibility Course: For developers, specifically, Google/Udacity is offering a free accessibility course. After you create a login (or use your Google account), you will have access to a series of videos and quizzes ranging from beginner to advanced accessibility topics.
  • Accessibility Audit: Overwhelmed, or not sure where to begin? An accessibility audit is a good way to understand how your site meets the needs of users with disabilities. C2 accessibility audits evaluate sites against WCAG 2.0 or ADA standards, and combine human investigation, screen-reading software tools, and testing of keyboard controls for code or content recommendations. Contact us to learn more.

I'm interested to see what comes next in the world of accessibility litigation, and excited at the prospect of more access for more people.

Who is with me?

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