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End of a Rough Year: Q4 2020 Digital Accessibility Lawsuits

As COVID ebbs and flows through the end of a tumultuous 2020, reliance on the internet for everything from shopping to learning to entertainment increases exponentially. Second-quarter court shutdowns reduced the number of digital accessibility lawsuits in April, May, and part of June. However, the end of the year saw a rebound ending with a record-setting December.

Much of that increase may have been due to the fact that while everything was shut down people turned to the internet. Even as stores and businesses reopened, virtual platforms remain the safest ways for people to reach necessary products, services, and information. But when those websites aren’t accessible, people with disabilities are often unable to get what they need. 

If a website’s designers failed to make a website accessible, it’s also unlikely that the website has an accessible feedback form where a visitor can point out the inaccessible features. Letters, calls, and emails often go unheeded. When people with disabilities can’t access products, information, and services, often the only way to make their voices heard is by filing a digital accessibility lawsuit. 

Companies that provide necessary products and services like food and clothing are the most obvious targets of digital accessibility lawsuits. But companies that provide less essential products and services such as car dealerships can’t discriminate against customers with disabilities either.

Food products

Retail and foodservice companies are some of the most likely to be hit with lawsuits over their failure to provide accessible digital experiences for all customers. Everyone eats!

(Josue) Romero v Wegmans Food Markets, Inc. 

Wegmans grocery store faced a digital accessibility lawsuitWegmans has frequently been voted the best grocery store chain in America, with over 100 stores across the Northeast. It’s surprising, then, that its website fails to consider many of its shoppers. Plaintiff Josue Romero alleged in his October 1 lawsuit that Wegmans Food Markets, Inc., website is not accessible because it does not follow WCAG 2.1 standards. Wegmans’ website lacks alt text, linked images that don’t include text of where the image leads, includes redundant or missing links, inaccessible menus, and elements without proper labeling. Romero claims that Wegmans violates a number of different state and local accessibility laws, including the ADA. In response, Romero requests that Wegmans make its website accessible to everyone. He also requests court costs, legal fees, and compensatory damages.

Rodriguez v Impossible Foods Inc

Plant-based meats company Impossible Foods, Inc. has grown in popularity in the past few years. They’ve recently joined with major restaurant chains such as Burger King and Red Robin to provide vegan burger alternatives. Plaintiff Angel Rodriguez attempted to find more information about the meat substitute but was unable to do so because Impossible’s website was inaccessible per WCAG 2.1 standards. Images on the website didn’t include alt text, empty and redundant links, inaccessible dropdown menus, and a lack of navigational links, among other things. Rodriguez claims that Impossible violates both New York City and state civil rights laws as well as the ADA.

Mahlberg v The Haagen Dazs Shoppe Company

Haagen Dazs, maker of delicious ice cream and frozen treats, is particularly appealing in a hot, sunny state like Florida. But Florida resident and US military veteran Raymond T.  Mahlberg alleges the website did not comply with WCAG 2.1, which prevented him from accessing product information online. Mahlberg is blind and uses assistive technology to access the internet. He was unable to find information on particular products and locate physical or virtual product retailers. He also found no accessibility notice or other resources he could use to contact Haagen Dazs to bring the accessibility issues to their attention. Mahlberg claims the website violates the ADA. He requests that the court require Haagen Dazs to make its website accessible to everyone, and compensate him for court costs and legal fees. 

Josue Paguada v Oatly Inc. 

Oat milk is one of the newer non-dairy milk alternatives to hit the health food market, and Oatly has become a premier manufacturer. Oatly gained popularity with its recent Starbucks partnership. When Josue Paguada attempted to learn more about this plant-based “milk” he was unable to do so because the website did not meet WCAG 2.1 standards on a number of different levels. The alleged violations include broken links, lack of reading sequence, text alternatives are not provided, headings and labels are not descriptive, and many others. Paguada claims that Oatly violates NYC civil rights laws and the ADA. He requests that Oatly make its website accessible to everyone, and award him compensatory damages in addition to court costs and legal fees.

Clothing and accessories

Raymond T. Mahlberg v Hanesbrands, Inc.

Plaintiff Raymond Mahlberg attempted to learn about Hanes clothing items and identify where he could purchase them but was unable to do so, claiming that Hanes’ website is inaccessible and does not comply with WCAG 2.1. Mahlberg tried unsuccessfully to find an accessibility statement and a way to contact Hanes to let them know their site was inaccessible. He alleges that it violates the ADA, and requests that the court order Hanes to make its website accessible.

Jariwala v Vineyard Vines LLC

Vineyard Vines, makers of casual, preppy apparel, appeals to shoppers looking for a cool, coastal look. However, California resident Krishna Jariwala alleges that Vineyard Vines’ website failed to follow WCAG 2.0 standards and was inaccessible. He was unable to shop on the website as a result. Jariwala alleges that Vineyard Vines failed to use alt text, used empty links without text, and had linked images without alt text. This violates the ADA and California’s Unruh act. If courts agree, they would order Vineyard Vines to make its website and digital resources accessible. The defendant would reimburse the plaintiff for court costs and legal fees, and pay the Unruh Act’s minimum damage amount of $4000.

Automotive

The automotive industry might not immediately come to mind when it comes to digital accessibility. While a person’s disability may prevent him or her from driving, there’s no reason he or she can’t own a car in which someone else (like a family member or hired driver) can drive them. Recreational items are no different. Just because they’re not essential doesn’t mean they don’t need to be accessible.

Chris Langer v LOS ANGELES MOTORS

Plaintiff Chris Langer attempted to view several videos on the Los Angeles Motors website. He was unable to gain the information he needed because closed captioning was not provided. Because of that, he was deterred from visiting other areas of the website. On October 15th, he filed a lawsuit alleging violations of the ADA and the Unruh Act. He requests that Los Angeles Motors make its website accessible to everyone. He also requests damages under the Unruh Act (statutory minimum of $4000) and court costs and legal fees. 

Eddie I. Sierra v Jaguar Land Rover North America, LLC and Eddie I. Sierra v. General Motors CompanyLand Rover vehicle, which faced a digital accessibility lawsuit in 2020.

Florida resident Eddie Sierra has a hearing disability and is unable to fully experience videos without using closed captioning. While researching vehicle purchase options, he explored Miami area Jaguar and General Motors dealership websites to learn more about product features, test-drive options, pricing, dealership hours, available inventory, and the like. Sierra could not access videos on Jaguar or GM websites because neither company had added closed captioning or supported IP relay systems. The information was not provided in an alternative, accessible format.

Sierra claims Jaguar’s alleged failure to provide accessible information violates the ADA. Sierra requests that Jaguar and GM make their dealers’ websites fully accessible, including alternative ways to access all visual and auditory information. He also requests that Jaguar and GM include digital accessibility policies on their websites and contact information for an IP relay service. If courts agree with Sierra, Jaguar and GM would be required to compensate Sierra for court costs and legal fees.

2020: A Learning Opportunity in Digital Accessibility

A drastic increase in website visitors is testing website usability on a daily basis. When people with disabilities can’t use a website to find what they need, there’s often also no accessible way to give that feedback to the website owner. Too often, digital accessibility lawsuits become the only way for people with disabilities to motivate companies to include their needs. These lawsuits aren’t just for companies who provide necessities like food and clothing. People with disabilities make up a significant portion of the market for all businesses. Companies can use this as a learning opportunity. 

As 2021 continues to drive business online, now is the time to evaluate your website to make sure that every digital resource is available to all people. Equidox can help by providing website auditing services as well as PDF remediation software and conversion services. Contact us today for a free consultation!

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