Tech Platforms and Website Developers Targeted in Emerging Wave of Website Accessibility Litigation
Blind Plaintiff Sues Sabre Technologies for Alleged Inaccessible Platform Powering WetWillies.com
In a shift from previous tactics, blind plaintiff Juan Carlos Gil sued the underlying platform provider and website developer in his website accessibility/Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuit, in addition to the specific business promoted by a particular website. (Gil v. Sabre Technologies and Wet Willies, S.D. Florida, filed January 12, 2018.)
This case should serve as a wake-up call to website developers, platform providers and agencies that they, too, are at risk of being swept up in the surge of website accessibility litigation that has impacted virtually every major (and many mid-size and small) public-facing brand and website.
In this specific case, plaintiff Gil claims that not only is Wet Willies Management Corp., which owns the business promoted by www.WetWillies.com (a chain of bars with around 20 locations) liable for violation of the ADA as the website is allegedly not “accessible” to blind users and fails to meet the WCAG2.0 standard, but also that website developer and platform operator Sabre Technologies, Inc. is also liable for disability discrimination.
Unfortunately, the law itself and court decisions do not provide clear guidance on the issue of website accessibility and application of the ADA to websites, apps and other communication technologies. However, plaintiffs and a growing number of courts hold that the ADA does apply to websites and apps and requires them to be accessible to disabled users. The WCAG standards, although not directly part of the ADA, are often referenced as a measure of appropriate accessibility.
In this environment of rampant litigation, platform providers, developers, agencies and businesses alike should consider pro-active, risk-reduction measures to make their websites, apps and other digital communication tools more accessible to blind and other disabled users. Businesses should also consider talking with legal counsel about adopting related policies and procedures, which can reduce risk of litigation as well as potentially reduce damages and/or establish a defense of “mootness,” which has experienced some recent success.
Finally, businesses and website operators that have been sued or have received a website accessibility demand letter should look at their contract with their web platform provider, website developer or similar entities, to see if they are entitled to protection or indemnification from the entity that built or maintains the website.