The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits public places of accommodation from erecting barriers to persons with disabilities. This portion of the ADA is known as Title III. This is the provision that requires, for example, entrance ramps at restaurants and stores. Does Title III also apply to websites? The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta says no.
The court notes there is a split among the circuits. Not every court of appeals agrees with the Eleventh Circuit. The case was brought by Juan Carlos Gil, who tried to order prescription drugs online from Winn-Dixie. Mr. Gil is blind. He was not able to place the order. The Winn-Dixie website does not use software compatible with his screen reader software.
The Eleventh Circuit found that since the plaintiff can place the order in person, Winn-Dixie did not erect any barriers to its goods or services. The court noted that Title III does not require a public place to offer an accommodation if doing so would alter the nature of its goods and services. Its ruling also finds that Title III applies to tangible, physical places. It does not apply to intangible places such as a website. See the decision in Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., No. 17-13467 (11th Cir. 4/7/2021) here. See the story in the ABA Bar Journal here.But, as the dissent noted, this decision disregards the words “privileges” and “advantages” also found in the ADA. A place of public accommodation, says the ADA, shall not erect barriers to privilege and advantage, not just goods and services.
We wonder how much burden would have been imposed on Winn-Dixie to make its software more accessible. But, undue burden was apparently not litigated as an issue. As the plaintiffs lawyer said, this ruling essentially shuts the internet door to persons who are blind. I think any person who knows someone who is blind would understand that a physical trip to the drug store is substantially more onerous than placing an online order.