A surge in lawsuits has businesses asking about website accessibility requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but there are few answers. Figuring out how websites fit into a law that predates the Internet has proved challenging. Courts are divided and specific regulations don’t exist. However, businesses can use the rapidly developing body of case law as a tool to better understand which websites may be subject to Title III of the ADA.

Is your business a “public accommodation” under Title III of the ADA?

Title III generally prohibits places of public accommodation from discriminating on the basis of disability. Public accommodations include various private entities that affect commerce, like restaurants, bars, hotels, theaters, retail and grocery stores, banks, doctors’ offices and shopping centers. Businesses should consult an attorney to determine Title III’s applicability.

Does the ADA apply to your website?

For web-based businesses, it could depend on your location. Courts are split on whether the ADA applies to websites that are not connected to a physical place. Some apply the ADA regardless of any physical location, while others require a sufficient connection (nexus) between the website and an actual physical place. An attorney should be consulted to determine how the law is interpreted in a specific jurisdiction.

For brick-and-mortar businesses, the Title III of ADA may apply if there is a sufficient connection between a business’s website and its physical location. What is a sufficient connection? Instead of applying a well-established, universal test (there isn’t one), courts consider various factors to find a connection.

  • Does the website provide more than basic information about a physical location?
  • Is the website heavily integrated with a physical location?
  • Does the website operate as a gateway to a physical location?
  • Does the website offer services relative to a physical location?
  • Are consumers required to use the website to access a physical location?

Providing basic information online may not be enough, but case law suggests that as integration, functionality and interactivity increase, so too does the likelihood of finding a sufficient connection under the ADA. For example, can consumers use the website to:

  • find locations?
  • view inventory (information, descriptions, images, etc.)?
  • place orders or pre-orders?
  • fill prescriptions?
  • purchase gift cards?
  • learn about sales or promotions?
  • obtain discount codes?
  • sign-up for member rewards programs?
  • manage store accounts?

So, at what point does a website become sufficiently connected for the ADA to apply? It’s too soon to know where the final line will be drawn, but it’s probably safe to assume that each “Yes” brings you one step closer.