Superior Court rules phone calls, email are not alternatives to an ADA-compliant website
On May 21, a California Superior Court granted summary judgment to a visually-impaired plaintiff, ruling that “auxiliary aids” in the form of phone calls or email replies do not meet the Americans with Disabilities Act’s (ADA) burden of providing “full and equal enjoyment of…any place of public accommodation.” According to the order, the defendants, who operate a restaurant and website, argued in part that the plaintiff could have called or emailed the restaurant to obtain information from the website. However, the judge ruled that “email and telephone options do not provide effective communication ‘in a timely manner’ nor do they protect the independence of the visually impaired” because they force a wait for a call back or reply email. As to whether the defendants’ website qualified as a “place of public accommodation within the meaning of the ADA,” the judge ruled that—while courts are split about whether “public accommodations” are limited to physical spaces—the defendants’ restaurant website fell within the category of a public accommodation under a “plain reading” of the statute, and the DOJ’s interpretation of websites under Title III of the ADA. In addition to awarding $4,000 in statutory damages, the court issued an injunction to the defendants, ordering them to comply with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 AA to ensure their website is ADA compliant.