Last year, I wrote that business owners need to be aware of a growing trend of federal class action lawsuits claiming business websites and point-of-sale terminals violate Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”). At this point, having a website that makes sales and isn’t broadly accessible is an invitation to be sued.
As a refresher, the ADA requires all businesses to remove any obstacle that interferes with a disabled person’s ability to access their products or services online – and under the ADA:
“a business may have discriminated against handicapped individuals when they construct and maintain architectural barriers which prevent disabled people from enjoying the business as any other person.”
Earlier this week, Prospect Farms Hemp Sales LLC and Highline Wellness Inc. were each named in separate federal court complaints filed by Rasheta Bunting, who is legally blind. The complaints allege in sum:
“Plaintiff brings this civil rights action against Prospect Farms for their failure to design, construct, maintain, and operate their website to be fully accessible to and independently usable by Plaintiff and other blind or visually-impaired persons. Defendant is denying blind and visually-impaired persons throughout the United States with equal access to the goods and services Prospect Farms provides to their non-disabled customers through www.Prospectfarms.com (hereinafter “Prospectfarms.com” or “the website”). Defendants’ denial of full and equal access to its website, and therefore denial of its products and services offered, and in conjunction with its physical locations, is a violation of Plaintiff’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”).”
Specifically, the complaints allege that the companies’ websites “contain thousands of access barriers that make it difficult if not impossible for blind and visually-impaired customers to use the website.” She indicates – “The blind have an even greater need than the sighted to shop and conduct transactions online due to the challenges faced in mobility.”
These lawsuits have typically been brought by groups of visually-impaired consumers who claim that a certain website fails to accommodate their disability – and now, whether by valid plaintiffs or not, it seems like this industry is indeed their next target. If a claim is successful, the defendant can be required to perform certain actions, which necessarily include things like incurring the cost of redesigning its website or point-of-sale system to comply, and pay the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees and costs. All in all, these lawsuits also can become very costly, very fast.
Ultimately, it really is important to get out ahead of all this and make sure that your business is staying apprised of ADA requirements and maintaining practices to ensure their systems are updated. Compliance is key here. And, if your business does find itself on the receiving end of a demand letter or complaint, the allegations should be taken seriously and dealt with quickly.