Court Rules Website Accessibility Does Not Require 100% Compliance | Kelley Drye & Warren LLP

If you have ever received a formal notice alleging that your company’s website is not accessible to the blind or visually impaired, it is likely that the plaintiff’s attorney has attached a report outlining a number of errors in accessibility on the website. This is not surprising since most – if not all – major websites are susceptible to errors. But while some errors may affect a blind or partially sighted person’s ability to navigate the website, others may not. A question that has not been addressed before by any court, however, is whether 100% accessibility is necessary to avoid liability under the ADA. A California district court recently ruled not. This is complicated by the fact that there are no regulations issued by the government regarding the standard of accessibility to consider. By default, the few courts that have required a company to ensure that its website is accessible to blind or visually impaired people using assistive technology have consulted the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

Last year, Andres Gomez filed a lawsuit against Trinitas Cellars (among dozens of other companies) alleging that his website was not accessible to blind or visually impaired visitors. Among other things, Gomez alleged that various images on the winery’s website — including a logo at the top of each page and icons for Trinitas’ social media sites at the bottom of those pages — lacked text equivalents, so they could not be read. by assistive technology, sometimes called “screen reader software”. Although the court acknowledged these errors, it determined that they did not violate the ADA.

Experts from both parties agreed that the Trinitas logo on the top site pages was not readable by screen-reading software. The court determined that while “it would have been ideal if this banner had been legible”, the plaintiff never explained how its lack of legibility denied him full use or equal enjoyment of the site. Experts also agreed that the social media logos at the bottom of the site were also not readable by screen-reading software. Again, the court found that the plaintiff had failed to establish “even a questionable connection between this lack of legibility and an obstacle that would matter to the ADA or show a recognizable injury.”

The ruling should give companies some leverage to fight complaints about website accessibility where the alleged errors aren’t likely to impede a blind visitor’s ability to navigate the site. Unfortunately, this fight will likely require the use of experts and the elaboration of facts through litigation. Nevertheless, it is helpful for a court to recognize that 100% compliance with WCAG standards is not necessary to avoid liability. Hopefully other courts will follow.

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