Is the Tide Shifting on Whether Title III of the ADA Covers Websites?

Is the Tide Shifting on Whether Title III of the ADA Covers Websites?

A recent set of decisions by a federal district court in Pittsburgh may signal an evolving trend in whether websites are covered under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). U.S. District Court judge Arthur Schwab, a George W. Bush appointee, ruled in three cases—Gniewkowski v. Lettuce Entertain You, Inc.; Frazier v. Churchill Downs; and Frazier v. Ameriserv Financial Bank—that some websites are covered under Title III, a dramatic change from previous Third Circuit appellate decisions that had indicated that Title III only covers physical buildings. While courts in other states—including Massachusetts and Vermont—have not strictly limited the coverage of Title III to brick-and-mortar only, this is the first time a judge in the Third Circuit has ruled specifically on whether websites are covered. Matthias Niska, a labor and employment attorney at Nilan Johnson Lewis who counsels businesses on disability accommodation issues, advises companies that offer goods and services to the public to start considering virtual places as an extension of their business, and thus to ensure that these virtual spaces are accessible to customers with disabilities. “Given these rulings, companies should be much more aware of website accessibility requirements and prepare accordingly. Although these are district court rulings and therefore not binding on other courts, the fact that the judge ruled this way shows what direction the wind is blowing,” says Niska. To speak with Matthias Niska on ADA compliance and other matters, contact him at 612.305.7727 or mniska@nilanjohnson.com.

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