Is Your Website Breaking the Law? Analyzing Website Accessibility Requirements for Georgia Insurance Agencies
Have you received a letter stating your website violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and demanding that you to correct alleged violations within days or pay up? If so, you are not alone. Business owners are receiving such demand letters from groups using ambiguity in the law as an opportunity to make a quick buck. For small businesses, these demands can be distracting, worrisome, and time-consuming. Some insurance agencies have begun to question whether maintaining a website is worth the trouble. In this article, we will break down how the ADA applies to insurance agency websites in Georgia, provide guidance on how to optimize your website’s accessibility, and present recommendations if you receive such a letter.
- What is the ADA?
The ADA is a civil rights law designed to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities and to guarantee that individuals with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else. The ADA extends to all areas of public life, including employment, education, state and local government, transportation, as well as public and private places that are open to the general public. Title III of the ADA applies to businesses that provide goods and services to the public, which the ADA calls “public accommodations.” Insurance offices are public accommodations under the ADA. Businesses covered by the ADA are required to modify their business procedures when necessary to serve customers with disabilities and to communicate effectively with such customers. The ADA also requires businesses to remove architectural barriers in existing buildings and make sure that newly-built or renovated facilities are accessible to individuals with disabilities.
When the ADA was signed into law in 1990, it created accessibility standards for brick-and-mortar facilities but did not contemplate the virtual world, which was still years away. In recent years, federal courts grappled with whether websites of businesses covered by the ADA must be accessible to the visually impaired, and if so, what that means as a practical matter. As often happens, federal courts in different circuits across the country have issued contradictory opinions, creating uncertainty which the Supreme Court may have to resolve. In Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., No. 17-13467 (11th Cir. Apr. 7, 2021), the Eleventh Circuit, which has jurisdiction over Alabama, Florida and Georgia, issued a key decision regarding website accessibility requirements for public accommodations under the Title III of the ADA.
- How does the ADA apply to insurance company websites in Georgia?
In Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, a visually-impaired customer sued Winn-Dixie for violating the ADA because the grocer’s website was incompatible with screen reader technology and did not enable visually impaired customers to enjoy certain in-store benefits. The Eleventh Circuit held that public accommodations are limited to “actual, physical places” under Title III of the ADA. As such, the court held that customer’s inability to access and communicate with the website did not violate the ADA. Next, the Eleventh Circuit considered whether Winn-Dixie violated Title III because accessibility issues with its website presented an “intangible barrier” to the customer’s equal access to the services, privileges, and advantages of Winn-Dixie’s physical stores. The Eleventh Circuit acknowledged that Title III of the ADA prohibits both tangible barriers (physical and architectural barriers that prevent a disabled person from entering an accommodation’s facilities and accessing its goods, services, and privileges) and “intangible barriers” (eligibility requirements, screening rules or discriminatory policies and procedures that restrict a disabled person’s ability to enjoy goods, services, and privileges). However, the Eleventh Circuit determined that Winn-Dixie’s “limited use website” was not an intangible barrier to visually-disabled customers accessing the goods and services of Winn-Dixie’s physical stores. The court noted that Winn-Dixie’s website had limited functionality and was not a point of sale because all product purchases must occur or be completed at the store. Moreover, nothing prevented the disabled customer from shopping and enjoying in-store benefits at the physical store, which the customer had done many times previously.
As previously discussed, insurance offices are public accommodations under the ADA. However, whether your website is subject to Title III of the ADA turns on the functionality of the website itself. If your website serves a limited use, similar to Winn-Dixie’s website, then according to Gil, you may not be violating the ADA.
- How can you protect your business?
Most insurance agencies need to harness and use the power of technology to remain competitive. A strong virtual presence can help your business flourish and make a good first impression. As the influence of technology continues to expand in all aspects of life, it is likely that the ADA will be clarified to apply to websites. To ward off accessibility problems, you or your website designer should evaluate your website and implement accessibility tools. First, be sure your website’s accessibility tools meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Standard, published by the main international standards organization for the internet. Second, periodically test and upgrade your website’s accessibility. Finally, be on the lookout for the updates to WCAG and new rule-making and case law interpreting the ADA.
- What should you do if you receive a demand letter?
Website accessibility demand letters routinely include vague allegations of violations, call for costly fixes to correct such alleged violations, and often impose nearly impossible deadlines to meet the demands. That is because, unfortunately, some senders of such demands prefer you pay them money to go away, rather than upgrade your website. Make no mistake, paying up does not mean the problem goes away. Someone else could send a similar letter the next day. We suggest your first call be to your website designer to help you understand accessibility improvements you can make to your website. Second, contact an attorney of your choice to help you respond to the demand. Finally, keep meticulous records of your efforts to address and improve your website’s accessibility.
This article is not intended to provide “legal advice” on the issues discussed in it and does not create an attorney-client relationship. It is only for informational purposes. Please contact Slotkin Law Firm or another attorney who is knowledgeable in this area of the law about your specific situation before taking any action.
 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq
 42 U.S.C. § 12101
 42 U.S.C. § 12101
 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a).
 42 U.S.C. § 12181(7)(F)
 42 U.S.C. § 12182(b)(2)
 42 U.S.C. § 12182(b)(2)
 Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., No. 17-13467, 2-8 (11th Cir. Apr. 7, 2021).
 Id. at 17.
 Id. at 18.
 Id. at 18-20.
 Id. at 22.
 Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) (June 5, 2018), https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG21/