This recent story out of California highlights the importance of web accessibility for hospitality businesses in 2022. The ongoing development is centered around dozens of wineries in the Bay Area who were recently hit with disability lawsuits, which are being described as “predatory” by the defendants, for having websites that fail to comply with accessibility standards.
At least 50 Napa County wineries have been sued this year for website accessibility non-compliance by a single plaintiff, Andres Gomez of Florida. Gomez, who is visually impaired and requires a screen reader to navigate the internet, claims the wineries’ websites discriminate against those with disabilities because they aren’t compatible with assistive technologies.
Many people with disabilities require assistive technologies to use the internet, such as screen reader software, which converts text, images, links, and buttons into audible speech so the visually impaired can fully engage online.
Gomez and his legal representation say that the wineries violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because their websites fail to meet its accessibility standards. The ADA is a civil rights law enacted in 1990 to ensure that those with disabilities can participate in all aspects of society. That’s why, under the ADA, physical buildings are required to have push-to-open doors, accessible restroom facilities, and implement other standards to accommodate those with disabilities.
However, many business owners don’t know that the ADA also applies to all public-facing websites. That means sites need to be created or modified according to official Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standards to ensure everybody in society can interact with them.
Reid Family Vineyards was among the 50 served with a disability lawsuit. Gomez’s lawyers requested $28,000 in an initial meeting and the two sides ended up settling for $8,000. The same article by the San Francisco Chronicle mentions that “the Reids were advised that settling with Gomez was their best option because going to trial would inevitably cost more.”
Pat Roney, CEO of Vintage Wine Estates (another winery served with a lawsuit by Gomez), said his company uses software and website overlays to audit its website’s accessibility (we recently wrote about the dangers of using accessibility overlays!). However, it’s difficult to stay on top of the standards, and that “sometimes things change faster than our ability to be aware of them,” he said.
Instead, Martin Orlick, a San Francisco attorney with Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell specializing in ADA compliance, recommends that all businesses “hire an experienced accessibility consultant for their websites.”
Is Your Business Protected from Costly ADA Lawsuits?
This latest string of disability lawsuits magnifies the need for hospitality businesses to take action on web accessibility and protect themselves from neverending legal fees, hefty penalties, and a PR nightmare. The sharp increase in ADA lawsuits is only increasing, especially since the U.S. Department of Justice placed website accessibility as a top priority going forward.
Many hospitality business owners are unaware of the ADA compliance requirements for their websites. The wine industry in Northern California is the latest group of companies to be targeted by the increasing number of disability lawsuits across the U.S.
On the bright side, these lawsuits are completely preventable when working with certified experts that can create or modify websites according to official standards like WCAG. Working with accredited technicians who understand ADA compliance requirements will protect your business from disability lawsuits, whereas patchwork fixes and shortcuts leave you exposed.
Get in touch for a free consultation and video review of your website according to ADA standards today!