Courts Divided Over Disabled Access to Websites

John Lister's picture

A court has ruled a grocery store did not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to make its website accessible to blind people. The ruling creates a confused national picture that may well end up in the Supreme Court.

The current case involves a chain called Winn-Dixie. A blind man brought the case forward after finding three features of the website were incompatible with his screen-reading software: online prescription filling, a store locator and a digital coupon tool.

Carlos Gil said this had a discriminatory effect as it meant that visits to physical stores in order to pick up prescriptions took significantly longer. He also said he was uncomfortable discussing his prescription orders in the store because being blind meant he did not know if anyone other than the pharmacist was listening.

Judges Say Only Physical Locations Count

When Gil first brought the case in 2017, a court ruled that Winn-Dixie had violated the ADA, which requires equal access to a "public accommodation" such as a physical store. The court said in this case the website acted as a "gateway" to the physical store and affected Gil's use of the store's services when picking up prescriptions. (Source:

That ruling has now been overturned by a federal appeals court. Two judges agreed with Winn-Dixie's argument that the ADA strictly applies to physical locations. They said that the website accessibility issues did not prevent Gil from accessing the prescription service in the store.

The third judge in the appeals court dissented with the ruling, saying online prescription filling was effectively part of the physical store's service.

Rules Differ Across States

For now the ruling affects cases Alabama, Georgia and Florida. It's in contrast to a previous appeals ruling that affects Western states in California. In that case, judges ruled Dominos had violated the ADA by not making its online ordering accessible to blind users. They said that this impeded access to the physical facilities where either customers collected or staff dispatched pizzas.

The split is particularly problematic for national chains that now face different interpretations of a federal law in different parts of the country. That makes it a good shot that a case will reach the Supreme Court at some point in the future.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you agree with the ruling in the Gil case? Should websites and apps come under the ADA if they relate to an in-store service? Should all online services be required to offer access to users with disabilities?

Rate this article: 
Average: 5 (4 votes)


Navy vet's picture

Just another schemer looking for a big payday.

Draq's picture

Do you know this for a fact, Navy Vet? I would be very, very careful when making statements like that unless you can back them up with some evidence. It would be quite unfortunate if this person was indeed just doing this to get money/attention, but these sorts of problems are also very real. Please don't just write them off like that.

Navy vet's picture

I wrote what I believe. Why should I be "very, very careful" when making statements like that? Are you threatening me? What happens if I, choose not to be "very very careful"?

Draq's picture

My goodness. Of course I'm not threatening you. What a silly thing to ask. What would I be able to do to you anyway? I say be very, very careful because you might one day say the wrong thing to the wrong person and they might be able to do something about it. People these days are crazy. People lose jobs over things like this even though they really shouldn't (cancel culture). It's not a threat; it's advice. Feel free to take it or don't. Of course if you don't care if you offend anyone with that sort of statement or end up looking like a bit of a fool, that's up to you. I also wondered if this belief of yours is actually supported by fact or if you really don't know what you're talking about. Either one is entirely possible. No need to get defensive in any case.

Also, I'd like to ask you to consider how you might feel if you had a disability and a business refused to make a perfectly reasonable accommodation so that you could access their service that everyone without your disability could use. Consider if you'd sue the company if that were an option. Consider how you would feel if someone simply wrote you off as a schemer for standing up for your rights as a human being. It's easy to just pass these things off when they don't affect you and you don't understand them, but your opinion/belief may change if you really take the time to consider them.

lightft_3936's picture

Accessibility and privacy: Pharmacy access is usually best using a phone so I feel the point is moot. Before Covid, everyone had someone standing on their heels when they talked to a pharmacist and everyone was overheard.

Business costs: It is stupid for a business to not make their store location available because that means people will go elsewhere. It would appear that the business wishes to advertise that they are uninterested in the plight of the unfortunate in the community. Short term thinking.

Business costs: Most companies want to make it look like they are offering you lots of discounts, but the goal is to make it as hard as possible to claim those discounts. Limiting quantities and versions of products, max or min quantities, limited days available, only in select stores, minimum total order to qualify, mixing in unqualifying products with a few that do qualify in the same display, confusing signage - all are common practices used to minimize the actual benefit to the customer while attempting to make the business look competitive. Few people actually watch the register closely or have a good enough memory to make it worthwhile, and the folks in Marketing know that.

Business costs: Just as companies find it hard to meet the different standards of the EU, USA China and other markets with just ONE policy, operating in two states or even adjoining towns with different regulations raises the cost of business. Consumers do not want to be lied to, and businesses do not want to need to meet multiple standards. Living in a society where you have to deal with other people with different needs, values, and viewpoints will always be a pain. Paraphrasing an old religious saying: Whenever two or more of you are gathered in his name, there will always be at least 3 opinions.

Draq's picture

"Pharmacy access is usually best using a phone so I feel the point is moot. Before Covid, everyone had someone standing on their heels when they talked to a pharmacist and everyone was overheard."

Irrelevant. A blind person who'd rather use an online platform that can be made accessible to them has the same right as a sighted person to use that same platform. That's the big picture here, not whether there's an alternative or that it was how things were before COVID. The moment you start saying things like this, you become part of the problem. Don't be part of the problem. Don't support further disabling disabled people just because it's convenient for everyone else.

RMG's picture

I agree with Navy vet

While I have utmost sympathy for persons with disabilities, there are certain truths that they have to reconcile to. It is not their fault that they have a disability, but it is not someone else's fault either (assuming that the other person was not responsible for causing the disability). Suing a company for something like this is frivolous.

What if he was completely blind and could not watch a TV screen ? Does that mean he would sue Sony for not making a screen that a blind person could see ? What if he had no arms and no legs, would he sue GM or Ford for not making a car that a person without arms and legs could drive ? Or the DMV for not issuing him a driver license ?

Draq's picture

RMG, I'm not sure how you can compare something like not being able to see a TV screen or being unable to drive with being unable to use a website because the website isn't accessible. Of course it would be insane to sue Sony because they made a TV that a blind person can't see. There's currently no technology that enables a blind person to access a TV screen. The closest thing right now is audio description, and that's on a per show/movie basis. It would also be insane to sue GM or Ford for making a car a person without arms or legs can't drive. We don't yet have technology to enable someone without arms or legs to drive that I'm aware of. Okay so self-driving cars are in development, but they're not available yet. These examples are extreme and irrelevant.

What we're talking about is websites that are difficult or near impossible for a blind person to access even with the use of assistive technology. As I pointed out to Russoule further down, it is entirely possible to make a website accessible if standards are followed. I do hope that the lawsuit wasn't the first option for this particular person and they did at least attempt to talk with the business first. If a lawsuit is the only way people will actually listen, then I say go for it.

You're correct when you say that there are certain truths that people with disabilities must reconcile to. Before screen readers came along a blind person wasn't able to use computers or smartphones at all. That was once a truth that they just had to reconcile to. Things are very different now. So please, don't sit there (or stand there if you're using a standing desk) and tell me that unusable websites are just a truth that blind people have to reconcile to. The real truth that blind people have to reconcile to in this case is that either some people are ignorant or they simply just don't care. Lawsuits are for those people who just don't care. I'm going to put you in the ignorant category, because I'm honestly not sure how much you know what blind people can and can't do with computers. That's not your fault, but I would strongly encourage you to educate yourself about this before you make statements like it's just a truth blind people have to reconcile to.

P.S. I'm blind, and that's why I'm so vocal on this subject. I'm guessing a lot of people who read this blog don't know much about blindness and assistive technology, so I'm trying to give them the benefit of the doubt and hold back some. However, if I encounter someone who doesn't care and chooses to remain willfully ignorant, I will have no problem with telling them to get bent.

Draq's picture

If web developers built websites with inclusiveness for as many people as possible in mind to begin with, this wouldn't even be an issue. It's 2021. There is no logical excuse not to have a screen reader accessible website, especially for a large company that can pay for a consultant. It'd probably be less than if they lost a lawsuit. I'd be interested to know if this individual tried contacting the company before resorting to a lawsuit though.

When I encounter a website with accessibility issues, I'll typically give the developer the benefit of the doubt and politely bring said issues to their attention. Heck, I even offer to help test changes if it'd help. No one's taken that offer yet, but I put it out there.

All that said, some people are just ignorant about web accessibility, and I can understand that. That's why I'm usually polite about it when pointing things out. However, if nothing is ever done or I'm told it would be too much of an effort, then I have no sympathy and the gloves come off. People who refuse to make their sites accessible because they're too lazy or don't think screen reader users matter can go straight to hell. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.

As far as the law goes, I'm not even sure why this is an issue. If businesses are required to make their buildings as accessible as possible, then why not their online platforms as well? Why does there need to be a difference? Why disallow discrimination offline but allow it online? It's sad that lawsuits about this sort of thing are even necessary at all.

russoule's picture

while I agree that it is through no fault of their own that a disabled person is disabled, I find it difficult to understand how Drag expects all web-sites to be completely accessible to every possible disabled person. when pop decided to add a web-site for his hardware store customers, there might have been 1 individual who could not see or hear out of the thousand or thousand five hundred customers. so Drag would insist that pop design his website to be accessible to all blind people or all deaf people at a cost of several additional thousands of dollars which would then be paid by the customers who are NOT blind or deaf? does this seem "fair" to those customers?

Winn-Dixie is a grocery chain that serves most of Florida and I don't think in the 20 years that I have lived here that I have seen a SINGLE BLIND PERSON either at the pharmacy or even at the check-pout line. Drag would have the business provide web-access to the less than .5% of the potential customers that MIGHT need special access. that is NOT a very smart move for a business.

Draq's picture

I believe I said "inclusiveness for as many people as possible". There will always be certain things that just can't be accessible to certain people if their disabilities are bad enough. This is just a fact of reality. It may not be a disabled person's fault if they're disabled, but it is entirely the fault of a business if their website isn't accessible and there is a way to make it accessible.

Russoule, I'm going to assume that you don't know that much about assistive technology, so I'll provide a brief explanation. Blind people use what's called a screen reader to access computers. They do their best to translate what's on the screen to speech and allow the user to navigate apps and websites. When things are designed with accessibility in mind they work great. Sometimes they can adapt when things aren't designed well, and sometimes they can't. A person who is both deaf and blind would typically use a screen reader in combination with something called a Braille display, which outputs the information in Braille. If you design a site to work with screen readers, it's a safe bet that most of it will be accessible to a person who is both deaf and blind as well.

There are standards for web accessibility that developers can follow. A website shouldn't be inaccessible to someone using a screen reader if possible, and they don't have to be if people design them with inclusiveness in mind. When you develop a website you have no way of knowing who may be accessing it. That one blind person who couldn't use pop's website may be the only one who bothered to say something about it. Pop has no idea how many visitors to his website are blind, and unless he took the time to do some research he may never know. This is why it's best to design with inclusiveness in mind from the very start so these issues can be avoided. If Pop were made aware of accessibility issues with his website and he had the power to fix them, then he would have no excuse not to fix them. If he refused, he'd be a jerk.

I'm deeply, deeply disturbed when it comes to this statement.

"Winn-Dixie is a grocery chain that serves most of Florida and I don't think in the 20 years that I have lived here that I have seen a SINGLE BLIND PERSON either at the pharmacy or even at the check-pout line. Drag would have the business provide web-access to the less than .5% of the potential customers that MIGHT need special access. That is NOT a very smart move for a business."

So, let me see if I'm understanding this correctly. Businesses can pour money into advertising. They can donate to good causes. Let's not forget that they can remodel their buildings. Some businesses even provide employee benefits, employee discounts, etc. Now, keeping all that in mind, you're saying that spending a bit of money to make their websites accessible isn't smart. What I take from that is that it's okay to discriminate against people with disabilities because it would cost too much to do the right thing, and it's okay for society to exclude and further disable disabled people. Now I actually don't know what an accessibility consultant would cost, but it can't be that bad. I'll have to do some research about that. If a business is large enough, then it shouldn't be that big of a problem. I'll also say again that making a site accessible is likely going to cost less than legal fees if they get sued.

If you're basically saying a minority doesn't matter enough , that's not cool. It's sad that people still think this way. I guess it's easy if you don't know anyone who's blind or aren't affected yourself. How would you feel if you became blind and were told that you didn't matter enough for someone to fix their website so you could use it, even if it were entirely possible to fix? People with disabilities are human too, and they have the same rights as everyone else.

I am blind. I use a screen reader. I can use a website just as well as any sighted person if it's designed properly. What I'm getting out of this is that I and people like me don't matter and shouldn't have the same access a non-disabled person has by default if it's too inconvenient. Again My guess is that you haven't been around many blind people and are ignorant about these things, so your viewpoint is understandable in that case. If I'm mistaken then I apologize. Honest ignorance I understand. Willful ignorance or unwillingness to fix something after being told of a problem is what angers me.

If you'd like to mess around with a screen reader to get a feel for how blind people use computers, Narrator is built into windows 10, Voiceover is built into Apple devices, and I believe Talkback is built into Android devices. Another option for Windows is NVDA, which can be downloaded from I use one called JAWS For Windows made by Freedom Scientific, and a demo of that can be downloaded from Try putting yourself in our shoes for a while, then come back to me and tell me we don't matter enough.

Draq's picture

If anyone reading this blog has questions about assistive technology and wants to learn more about things like this, I'll be happy to answer what I can. The more people who are aware of issues like this one, the better.

ehowland's picture

It is a complex subject, and I can see points from both sides. While I am not blind I am a little disabled, and really appreciate the carefully thought out and reasoned responses by Drag. Very eloquent and no emotional response or getting miffed. More impressive that you thought that all out and wrote it using I am guessing a dragon type thing with no grammar issues I could find. I had a good (older 78) friend who was legally blind (Diabetes) but could barely see. I had maxed out his screen size on his PC for him (I do IT). I maxed out the Captioning on his TV as he was hard of hearing as well. I have ataxia and balance issues and while I DO go to the grocery store, I bet everyone just thinks my slurring when I talk and being kind of tipsy looking when I walk they just assume I am drunk (I do not drink). I just know it will be the case, but folks are polite to my face. I just know/predict they say (internally, or whisper to others) "he has had too many..." My (older) friend passed away (PT place screwed up on day 2 and gave him too much insulin and put him in a coma with a blood sugar of 10). If he were still around I would ask you about the reader stuff. There is a show on TV "in the dark" (on the CW) that the lead star is totally blind and uses tons of reading devices and navigates a lot. Kind of a dark show (emotionally) but really shows off the reading assistance devices. I thought it might be over the top on reading assistance, and it might be a bit, but thanks to your input the vast majority of it is current tech... QUITE a good show I suggest some folks here who are like "bah humbug" on this topic watch it a bit. it really shows what you are talking about. I do not know how much "more" it costs to incorporate blind use into website design but I can't imagine it's much (maybe 10% more) I think folks are assuming it is magically extra hundreds of thousands. I bet testing is more expensive (but I am sure there are part timer testers who do not charge much (or want to do it for free, like yourself)...

Draq's picture

Hello Ehowland,

Thanks for the kind words. It amazes me how difficult it can be to help people understand these sorts of issues, but I do my best when I find myself in a situation in which I can attempt it.

As far as writing and proofreading goes, I only use a screen reader. No dictation software such as Dragon is necessary for me as I can type on a keyboard without any problems. Barring any other disabilities that may make typing problematic, many blind individuals can type without problems. At least I assume you're talking about Dragon Naturally Speaking. If they also make grammar checking software, I'm not aware of it.

As far as proofreading in general goes, I'm able to catch some typos when reviewing what I wrote using text-to-speech. Text can be read by line, word, character, etc. My screen reading software also has a feature called text analyzer that can catch certain errors (extra spaces, misplaced punctuation, etc.) when used. Google Chrome also can check spelling, and my software makes a sound when a misspelled word is detected by Chrome and other software that this feature supports. If I want to be thorough, I'll run what I write through Word or just write in Word to begin with. It also helps that comments here can be edited if I notice something's not quite right after posting.

Aside from that, I learned Braille before I started using computers, so I can write well in the first place. It all depends on what sort of education someone receives and if they care about being understood when they write. It's really the same whether you're blind or sighted. Since people sometimes judge others by how they write, I like to take the time to write as clearly as possible.

As for not getting emotional, it helps to remember that some people are simply ignorant. They may not have had any sort of contact with people with disabilities. If they have, sometimes those experiences can be negative. There are blind people who can seem entitled, incompetent, ignorant, etc. Not all of us are like that, and those who may have other disabilities that can make it difficult for them to function in society. Getting angry helps no one, and it's entirely possible to express yourself without resorting to crude or hurtful language. Unfortunately, sometimes such language can be necessary if it's the only thing someone understands.