ADA answers: What exactly are places of public accommodation and commercial facilities?

By: Darlene Clabault

Publication: Employment Law & Regulatory Alert

Date Posted: 08/15/2019

Places of public accommodation are facilities that affect commerce and that fall within 12 categories including stores and shops, restaurants and bars, sales or retail establishments, service establishments, theaters, places of lodging, recreation facilities, assembly areas, private museums, places of education, and others.

Nearly all types of private businesses that serve the public are included in the 12 categories, regardless of size. Commercial facilities include office buildings, factories, warehouses, manufacturing plants, and other facilities whose operations affect commerce.

Website design leads to lawsuit

Benjy, an individual with a vision impairment, tried to access a commercial business’ website. Because he could not see the screen, he needed the information contained on the screen to be read audibly to him so that he could understand the information he heard and navigate the website using the keyboard only.

For screen-reading software to function as designed, the information on the website must be capable of being rendered into meaningful text. Benjy found that the website was not designed to allow his screen reader to interpret the text.

Therefore, he filed a class action claim, arguing that, because the business’ website was not fully, equally, or independently accessible to blind and visually-impaired consumers in violation of the ADA, Benjy sought to require the business to revise its website to become and remain accessible, and he also argued for compensatory damages. More specifically, the complaint asks that the business perform the following:

  • Train employees and agents who develop the company website on accessibility and compliance with the ADA to allow all functions of the website to be accessible to persons using screen-readers using only a keyboard;
  • Regularly check the accessibility of the website to maintain its accessibility and to allow all functions of the website to be accessible to persons using screen-readers using only a keyboard;
  • Regularly test end-user accessibility of the website by blind or visually-impaired screen-reader users to ensure that the website is accessible to blind and visually-impaired individuals who would access the website with screen-reading technology; and
  • Develop an accessibility policy that is clearly disclosed on its website, with contact information for users to report accessibility-related problems and be provided with meaningful resolution after the business has investigated and identified the accessibility-related problem that was identified and reported.

The complaint indicates that the ADA requires that a public accommodation provide accessible electronic and information technology as auxiliary aids and services, and that inaccessible websites violate this mandate. It also points out that the DOJ has consistently stated that the ADA’s accessibility requirement applies to websites belonging to private companies.

The court awarded summary judgment to Benjy regarding the company’s liability. It is still working on the damages.

Gomez v. General Nutrition Corporation, S.D. Fla., No. 1:17-cv-22747, August 29, 2018.

About the author
Darlene Clabault - HR Senior Editor

Darlene is a Senior Editor on the Human Resources Publishing Team and specializes in employment law topics such as the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Forms I-9 and E-Verify.

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