What the Winn-Dixie Case Means for the Future of Web Accessibility

September 27, 2017 BY ELISA LEWIS
Updated: January 26, 2021


Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) focuses on public accommodations. Public accommodations are businesses that are open to the public and fall into any of the 12 categories listed in the ADA. Some examples include restaurants, movie theaters, schools, recreation facilities, and doctors’ offices.

The purpose of Title III of the ADA is to ensure that no individual be discriminated against due to having a disability. Specifically, Title III focuses on the opportunity for full and equal enjoyment of goods and services, including facilities, privileges, and advantages of any place of public accommodation.

Congress anticipated that the ADA would reflect the most current technology of a given time. -Bobby Silverstein

ADA and Accessible Technology

Although technology didn’t exist in its current form when the ADA was written, Bobby Silverstein tells us in the webinar, What the Winn-Dixie Case & Other Important Rulings Mean for the Future of Web Accessibility Under the ADA, that Congress anticipated that the ADA would reflect the most current technology of a given time. They stated that the concept of discrimination “should keep pace with rapidly changing technology of the times” which recognized that the definition of discrimination would broaden as technology evolves.

A bit more recently, a representative from the Department of Justice (DOJ) made two significant comments on this topic. He first said that access to the internet is becoming the gateway civil rights issue for people with disabilities. Secondly, he said that it would be a travesty if companies and other entities do not address access to the internet.

Department of Justice (DOJ) Settlement Agreements for Winn-Dixie and Other Cases

Winn-Dixie – a grocery store and pharmacy chain – has a website that closely corresponds to its physical stores. The website acts as an asset or channel to the physical stores by allowing customers to find store locations, refill prescriptions, and access digital coupons via the website.

When their website was found to be inaccessible, the court was faced with the question of whether the website should be subject to the ADA as a service of a public accommodation. The DOJ dissected each word of the regulations and determined that “discrimination applies to the provision of goods and services of a place of public accommodation, rather than just those goods and services at or in a place of public accommodation.” In June 2017 the court came to a decision. The final say was that the ADA doesn’t only refer to the very simple issue of physical access to a place of public accommodation.

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Hobby Lobby (A Win)

Another decision from June of this year was with Hobby Lobby. Hobby Lobby has a website where, among other things, you can purchase products. Some of these products are only available online, and cannot be found in stores. The website was found to be inaccessible, and the court agreed that for 20 years the DOJ has been saying that the ADA applies to private websites that are public accommodations. Therefore, Hobby Lobby’s website should comply.

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Domino’s Pizza (A Loss)

In the case of Domino’s Pizza, we have an entirely different outcome. The court dismissed Domino’s having an inaccessible website. They said they expect that at some point in time the DOJ will have specific standards, and until then they are not ready to hold that websites must be accessible.

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SeaWorld (A Loss)

In another similar outcome with SeaWorld, a Florida judge decided that SeaWorld’s website is not considered a place of public accommodation under Title III of the ADA.

Bang and Olufsen America (A Loss)

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The judge decided that the plaintiff failed to state a real claim under the ADA, but rather stated a hypothetical situation. The federal district court judge in this case also requires websites to have a “nexus” to a physical location in order to be covered under Title III of the ADA.

What Congress Intended When They Passed the ADA

Despite contradictory outcomes in several of these cases, Bobby Silverstein shares an insider view of what Congress intended when they passed the ADA. From his experience working on the Americans with Disabilities Act for Senator Harkin, the chief sponsor of the ADA, he explains that what Congress intended for the ADA to change with technology, and Congress would establish general statements of policy with respect to what does constitute discrimination on the basis of disability.

He goes on to say that discrimination means if you decide to do something for the general public, the general public includes people with disabilities. Therefore whatever you do that is effective and meaningful for the general public must also be effective and meaningful for an individual with a disability. In terms of mobile and web – if you choose to communicate with your audience or customers via these platforms, then they must be accessible for all.

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Not sure if your websites meet the standards? Take the quiz to see how accessible your webpages are!


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