ADA Requirements for Dealership Websites
Sarah J. Horner | 03.01.22
More businesses have been hit with lawsuits in recent years alleging that their website does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because it is not accessible to people who have physical or mental impairments. Considering that nearly 1 in 5 Americans has a disability, making your dealership website ADA-compliant is essential not only to avoid litigation, but more importantly to ensure that customers and job applicants can access your online content. This article provides a brief overview of this complex area of anti-discrimination law that is important to keep an eye on as website compliance gains public and court attention.
Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination based on disability in a “place of public accommodation.” A “place of public accommodation” includes a privately owned facility whose operations affect commerce and fall into the category of a “sales or rental establishment” or “service establishment.” Thus, a typical brick-and-mortar car dealership is obviously a “place of public accommodation.” This means that to avoid an ADA violation, dealership showrooms and service facilities cannot have barriers that prevent physical access and employees must take the steps necessary to communicate effectively with customers who have vision, hearing, speech, and other disabilities.
The same level of accessibility required for retail brick-and-mortar establishments is now being seen as required for websites. Although neither the ADA itself nor any regulation specifically identifies a website as a “place of public accommodation,” the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has taken the position that Title III of the ADA applies to all public-facing websites used by companies that otherwise qualify as places of public accommodation. And since the DOJ enforces the ADA, their opinion is worth considering.
However, not every court agrees with the DOJ. The absence of explicit statutory guidance has resulted in some courts concluding that a website constitutes a “place of public accommodation” regardless of any connection to a physical space, while others hold that websites provided by a public accommodation may fall within the ADA if they have a sufficient nexus to a physical space. The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (which is the federal circuit court that covers Wisconsin) is in the former category; it has concluded that a website itself can be a place of public accommodation because it provides the same retail sales function as a physical space, and therefore must provide equal access to people with disabilities.
Considering that a car dealership would be hard-pressed to argue that their website does not have a connection to their physical space, taking steps to ensure ADA compliance is advised. The primary way to make a website more accessible is to provide alt tags or descriptions that accompany photos and graphics. Additionally, using tags, long descriptions, and captions on the web page itself can help those with visual impairments or other cognitive disabilities more easily access the content. To achieve the gold standard of ADA website compliance, dealers should consider the “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines” (WCAG), which the DOJ and some courts have relied upon in assessing whether a website violates Title III. The minimum level of conformance under WCAG requires, in addition to alt tags and descriptions (among other things), captions for prerecorded audio content, instructions for operating content that do not rely solely on sensory characteristics, use of more than just color to distinguish features, and a mechanism to pause or stop any audio that automatically plays for more than 3 seconds.
Vendors can assist dealers in bringing their websites into compliance with the ADA to avoid risks of discriminating against persons with disabilities. Taking preemptive measures to enhance website accessibility can also benefit dealers by bringing in more customers and more diverse job applicants. If you have specific questions about whether your website complies with the ADA or have been faced with a lawsuit on this topic, you should contact your attorney.
The information provided is for general informational purposes only. This post is not updated to account for changes in the law and should not be considered tax or legal advice. This article is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship. You should consult with legal and/or financial advisors for legal and tax advice tailored to your specific circumstances.