Federal Incapacity Discrimination Regulation Does Not Require Web sites Be Accessible

A website is not a “place of public accommodation” and an inaccessible website does not necessarily mean denying goods or services. So did a federal appeals court in a landmark decision on Disability Discrimination under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Gil v Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., No. 17-13467 (11th Cir. April 7, 2021).

While the Eleventh Circle, along with several other circles, maintains a website that is not a “place of public accommodation” within the meaning of Title III, it was expressly pointed out that an inaccessible website is not necessarily synonymous with the refusal of goods or, according to the facts Services because the website lacked a tool that would allow the website to be read aloud using screen reader technology.

The Eleventh County covers Alabama, Florida, and Georgia.

Standing up to Sue

The plaintiff, who has a visual impairment, had the right to make his claim, according to the Eleventh Circuit, because he had been a regular customer for 15 years, using coupons and filling out prescriptions in the store until he stopped visiting the store because he did it discovered the website was offering online prescription refills and electronic coupons that he couldn’t access.

Places of public accommodation

On the broader question of whether websites are “public accommodation places”, the Eleventh Circle considered that a website is not a public accommodation place as it is not one of the 12 types of public accommodation listed in the law.

The court stated that the legal definition of “public accommodation” clearly only included physical locations. It said, “All of these types of places listed are tangible, physical places. It does not list intangible places or spaces such as websites. “It was also stated that the definition of Title III cannot be changed by the courts to include websites, as this must be left to Congress according to the separation of powers doctrine.

Access to goods or services

The Eleventh Circle found that Winn-Dixie did not discriminate against visually impaired people, even when a website was a physical business (and place of public accommodation) service, by not having a screen reader-compatible website as an aid to people with disabilities Had unrestricted access to the goods and services offered by the place of public accommodation, the physical Winn Dixie store.

The court found that the plaintiff had completed prescriptions and used paper coupons in the store with no difficulty for many years. The court found that despite the website’s alternative, and often faster, ways to replenish prescriptions and use online coupons, he could continue doing this in the same way in store. The eleventh circle of ADA requires that disabled customers be given equal access to these goods and services, but not necessarily in the same way as non-disabled customers. It was pointed out that the legal obligation to provide tools and services enables equivalent, but not identical, access. This is the case even if non-disabled users have more convenient access via the website. (The website in question did not allow direct purchases. All prescriptions had to be picked up in the store and all coupons had to be used in the store.)

While the Eleventh Circle seemed to be saying that as long as a disabled user can purchase goods and services in the physical location of the public accommodation, there is no entitlement under Title III if the disabled user cannot also purchase such goods through a website that the court has this issue was not addressed directly as no goods or services were sold on the Winn-Dixie website.

Nexus Standard rejected

In the end, the Eleventh Circle directly rejected the “Nexus” standard used by many courts across the country.

Under the Nexus standard, courts have ruled that websites, although not directly included in the definition of public accommodation locations, can be treated as part of the physical public accommodation location if there is a strong link between the website and the website physical storage. This theory resulted in thousands of cases claiming that most of the websites have a strong physical business connection.

The eleventh circle determined that the theory was flawed and that there was no basis under Title III to extend the ADA to locations or websites that are not otherwise covered simply because such websites have a connection (even a strong one) to a physical location of public housing.


In their 34-page dissent, Circuit Judge Jill Pryor agreed to the pretrial that Winn-Dixie offered separate, additional services to customers through their website by allowing customers to refill recipes and to load vouchers onto a customer’s loyalty card. She would have found that Winn-Dixie had violated the ADA by failing to provide tools and services to make these additional services accessible to people with disabilities (through a screen reader compatible website).


The Eleventh Circle decision is significant for businesses that operate entirely online, as a website is not itself a place of public accommodation to which the ADA applies. In addition, brick and mortar businesses that offer disabled customers alternative means of obtaining goods and services such as in person or by phone or email rather than just a website would find good points in the court’s decision.

The Eleventh Circuit also highlighted the usefulness of an accessibility statement, which is an alternative means of getting information or goods on a website or to assist with using the website. The court endorsed the idea that the ADA requires equal access, not necessarily in the manner preferred by a particular user. While assistance may be required, assistance requested by a particular user (e.g., a screen reader compatible website) may not be “necessary” assistance under the ADA when it comes to alternative means of obtaining goods and Services exist.

Despite the Eleventh Circuit’s decision, it remains to be seen whether more circuits will follow or will be preferred in terms of state disability laws. Businesses need to carefully study the interplay of federal and state disability laws to determine the right course.

Jackson Lewis PC © 2021National Law Review, Volume XI, Number 99

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