Court Permits Website Accessibility Lawsuit Against Hooters To Proceed

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A federal appeals court just breathed new life into a disability access lawsuit filed against restaurant chain Hooters, permitting a blind plaintiff who claims he could not access the company’s business website to proceed with his ADA claim—despite the fact that the company was in the midst of fixing its website at the time the lawsuit was filed. The decision from earlier this week should be a wake-up call to all businesses with websites accessible to the public, serving as a reminder to ensure their sites are ADA-compliant (Haynes v. Hooters of America).

Blind Website Visitor Files Suit Against Restaurant

Because Florida resident Dennis Haynes is blind, he uses screen reader software to access the internet. In early 2017, he attempted to read and navigate the website for Hooters, a national restaurant chain. However, because the company’s website was not compatible with screen reader software, he says he could not do so.

In April 2017, he filed a federal lawsuit against the company alleging a violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). That section of the law requires businesses that provide services open to the public to ensure that those services are accessible to all individuals, including those with disabilities.  The law has recently been interpreted to apply to websites just as it does to physical stores, restaurants, shops, offices, and other brick-and-mortar places of business. His lawsuit asked the court to order Hooters to alter its website to make it fully accessible, and also to direct Hooters to continually update and maintain its website to remain usable by visually impaired visitors.

Hooters was well aware of the accessibility problem. That’s because, a year earlier, a different plaintiff filed a lawsuit nearly identical to the one Haynes brought. Hooters quickly negotiated a settlement of that first lawsuit in which the company agreed to improve access on its website within 12 months to conform with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0—the recognized industry standard for website accessibility.

Hooters raised this settlement agreement as a defense to Haynes’ lawsuit, arguing that it was in the process of actively implementing a comprehensive remediation plan for its website and therefore should not be subject to Haynes’ similar claims. The trial court agreed with Hooters’ argument and dismissed the case, saying there was no live controversy. It pointed out that the very same relief Haynes was seeking was already in the process of being implemented by Hooters. Haynes filed an appeal with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which disagreed with this line of thinking and revived the lawsuit.

Appeals Court Resurrects Lawsuit

The court of appeals was not impressed with the settlement agreement in the separate case and concluded that it did not block Haynes’ lawsuit. Its June 19 opinion plainly states: “Hooters’ assurance to an unrelated third party to remediate its website does not alone moot Haynes’ claims for relief.”

The 11th Circuit Court—which hears cases arising out of Florida, Georgia, and Alabama—noted that there was nothing in the record to factually demonstrate that the website was being actively updated. Even if there was, the court said, there were certain things Haynes asked for in his lawsuit that could not be provided through the private settlement of a separate but similar lawsuit. For one thing, Haynes asked the court to order Hooters to continually update and maintain its website to ensure it remained fully accessible. Nothing in the settlement agreement provided such assurances.

The court then vacated the lower court’s decision and sent it back to that trial court for further proceedings. If the parties cannot reach an agreement or if this case is not dismissed on other grounds, Haynes will have an opportunity to present his case at trial.

What Does This Mean For Other Businesses?

This decision should cause businesses to reassess compliance efforts when it comes to website accessibility standards. Especially those businesses with operations in Florida, Georgia, or Alabama should realize this decision means you cannot simply wait to get threatened with a lawsuit, or even served with a formal claim, before taking action. Plaintiffs can use this decision to argue that your actions alone in implementing a remediation plan to fix an inaccessible website after being slapped with a demand letter or lawsuit might not be enough to allow you to escape liability.

Instead, a better course of action would be to proactively work to ensure your website meets legal compliance standards before a legal situation develops. You can start by following the standards set by the WCAG, which provides web designers with criteria for making digital content more accessible to those with disabilities.

If your company website posts menus, accepts orders, permits customer reviews and testimonials, takes reservations, provides addresses and directions to brick-and-mortar locations, accepts job applications, includes FAQs, has email or chat features, or has any other online presence, you should consult with your web designer about ways to make these aspects accessible to those with disabilities.

Remember, it’s not just visual impairments that need to be considered when making your website compliant with the law. Some of the more common website accessibility issues affect individuals with hearing impairments and those who are unable to use a mouse and must navigate with a keyboard, touchscreen, or voice recognition software. For those with hearing impairments, the issue is often that audio content on the website does not include closed captioning, or that images do not include captions. You may need to build your website to properly interact with any adaptive software or technology designed for accessibility purposes.

If you have any questions, contact the author or your Fisher Phillips attorney.

Original Article can be found here.

Working on a website can be difficult. Adding new media and updating pages is chore, even though you know your company website needs to evolve and become more accessible to the many users you are trying to reach. Maybe when you first built it, accessibility wasn’t even really discussed. But now you’ve taken a step back, looked at your customer base with a desire to include everyone and you’ve realized just how important it is to make your site accessible. However, the thought of building a robust site that can do all the things you want it to do is overwhelming.

What is Web Accessibility

A practice of designing and coding the website in order to provide complete compatibility in accessing it by people with disabilities. In addition, it is a way to improve search engine optimization only an ADA Compliant Web Designer will help you to make your website Compliant. Is your website compatible? By going through the checklist below, you can get the answer.

Assessing Current Web Pages and Content

  • The website must include a feature like a navigation link at the top of the page. These links have a bypass mechanism such as a “skip navigation” link. This feature directs screen readers to bypass the row of navigation links and start at the web page content. It is beneficial for people who use screen readers to avoid to listen to all the links each time they jump to a new page.
  • All the links should be understandable when taken out of the context. For example, images without alternative text and links without worded as “click here”.
  • All the graphics, maps, images, and other non-text content must provide text alternatives through the alt attribute, a hidden/visible long description.
  • All the documents posted on the website should available in HTML or another accessible text-based format. It is also applicable to other formats like Portable Document Format (PDF).
  • The online forms on the website should be structured so assistive technology can identify, describe and operate the controls and inputs. By doing this, people with disabilities can review and submit the forms.
  • If the website has online forms, the drop-down list should describe the information instead of displaying a response option. For instance, “Your Age” instead of “18-25”.
  • If the website has data charts and tables, they should be structured so that all data cells are associated with column and row identifiers.
  • All the video files on the website must have audio descriptions (if necessary). This is for the convenience of blind people or for having a visual impairment disability.
  • All the video files on the website must have synchronized captions. People with hearing problems or deaf can access these files conveniently.
  • All the audio files on the website should have synchronized captions to provide access to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
  • All web pages should be designed so that they can be viewed using visitors’ web browser and operating system settings for color and font.

About Website Accessibility Policy and Procedures

  • One must have a written policy on website accessibility.
  • The website accessibility policy must be posted on the website at a location where it can be easily found.
  • The procedure should be developed to ensure that content is not added to the website until it has been made accessible.
  • It should be confirmed that the website manager has checked the code and structure of all new web pages before they are posted.
  • While adding the PDFs to the website, these should be accessible. Also, the text-based versions of the documents should be accessible at the same time as PDF versions.
  • Make sure that the in-house and contractor staff has received the information about the website accessibility policy and procedure to confirm the website accessibility.
  • It should be confirmed that in-house and contractor staff has received appropriate training on how to ensure the accessibility of the website.
  • The website should have a specific written plan if it contains inaccessible content. Also, it should include timeframes in place to make all of the existing web content accessible.
  • A complete plan to improve website accessibility should be posted along with invited suggestions for improvement.
  • The homepage should include easily locatable information that includes contact details like telephone number and email address. This is useful for reporting website accessibility problems and requesting accessibility services with information.
  • A website should have procedures in place to assure a quick response to the visitors with disabilities who have difficulty in accessing information or services available on the website.
  • Feedback from people who use a variety of assistive technologies is helpful in ensuring website accessibility. So make sure to ask disability groups representing people to provide feedback on the accessibility of your website.
  • Testing the website using a product available on the internet is helpful, These tools are of free cost and check the accessibility of a website. They may not identify all accessibility issues and flag issues that are not accessibility problems. However, these are, nonetheless, a helpful way to improve website accessibility.

Checklist of Action Items for Improving the Accessibility of a Website

In addition, while considering the above suggestions, the following checklist initially prepared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for Federal Agencies provides further guidelines on ways to make websites more accessible for persons with disabilities.

This practical advice, as well as another checklist, are available at:

Satisfying all of these items does not necessarily mean that a website complies with ADA, but it will improve the website’s accessibility and decrease the risk of litigation. Again, an Expert or Web Accessibility Consulting & Services provider should be engaged to conduct a comprehensive review of your website.
Nothing brings you closer to reality than actually facing it. This is the premise of my latest attempt to spread awareness about Web Accessibility.
For better understand, here is a link in which a practical example is shown to make the websites’ user experience better by following the guidelines. Also, it tells the issues affecting various users on the internet with solutions.
You can make your website ADA compliant in an easy way by consulting the professionals, who can do this job effortlessly. Also, you can get a quick website audit from To Be ADA Compliant that offers complete web accessibility consulting & services in California, USA.