The AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT (ADA) is full of unanswered questions. One of them is: Is a website a ”place?”
This question is important because the ADA prohibits disability discrimination in “places” of public accommodation. These include stores, business offices, sports arenas, movie theaters and other places of public congregation. This concept of “place” is why the ADA requires, in many cases, that buildings have ramps, accessible restrooms, doors of a certain width, etc.
One of the complications is that the ADA was passed in 1990, when the internet was in its infancy and lawmakers could not have anticipated how websites would become such an integral part of all our lives. Back then, it was pretty obvious that “place” meant something physical, not something in some conceptual “cloud” somewhere.
But times have obviously changed. Is the law going to change with them?
See tne article below by Aesha N. Khahn for some great insights into this question.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits most businesses that are open to the public from discriminating against individuals because of disability. The ADA defines these businesses as “places of public accommodation” and they are required to make their facilities accessible to people with disabilities, as long as this does not “fundamentally alter” the business or result in an “undue burden” to the business.
The ADA was enacted in 1990, when defining “place” was a simple matter: It was a physical location of some kind. This was before computers and cell phones permeated our daily lives, and before so much business was conducted on the Internet. It is not surprising, therefore, that there has been a lot of pressure on the courts to expand their rather outdated way of defining that term.
Enter Juan Carlos Gill, an individual who was blind and wanted to use a grocery store’s website to do his shopping. But because the store (Winn-Dixie) did not have the special software necessary for him to read the computer screen, he was unable to do so. Mr. Gill then sued Winn-Dixie and in June 2017, the court ruled that the store’s website was in fact a “place” because it was so interconnected to the physical stores and operated as a “gateway to the physical store locations.” The court also determined that Winn-Dixie had violated the ADA by not making that place (its website) accessible.
This case is considered a landmark, because it’s the first time a federal trial judge has stated that a website is in fact a “place.” No wonder they say that the wheels of justice grind slowly!