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Could Your Department Website Be a Legal Liability?

Tips on Website Accessibility and ADA Compliance

A recent trial involving the company Winn-Dixie revealed an alarming detail about responsibility for website owners. If a person with a disability is unable to access the information on your website, could you be held legally liable?

The case in Southern Florida, Juan Carlos Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., concluded that WinnDixie.com was in violation of Title III of the American Disabilities Act (ADA). The court found that the private company’s website was a “public accommodation” that was inaccessible and a “gateway” that was “heavily integrated” with company’s physical locations.

The case has sparked discussion across many industries, specifically about how to protect one’s company from legal liability. But as community leaders, your key focus should be that the more accessible the information on your department website is, the more capable you are in serving your community.

For many departments, their websites are places where the community can understand the department’s mission, find contact information and gather the latest news and information. Don’t you want to be accessible to every individual you serve? (Answer: “Yes!”)

With that in mind, here are a few tips to help you improve your department website’s accessibility and in turn better serve your community:

  • Understand accessibility requirements – There are two main website-accessibility standards, 508 and WCAG 2.0. You can decide which to go with, as they both offer detailed lists for you to follow. Since WCAG 2.0 was specifically referenced in the Winn-Dixie lawsuit, this quick reference guideline is an excellent place to help you get started.
  • Use technology to scan your site – Tools like Wave and Powermapper will allow you to quickly scan your website and highlight areas for improvement.

In general, the more accessible your website is, the better you’re able to serve your community. There are lots of resources available (15 tips you can use to improve your site’s accessibility) so you don’t have to start from scratch.

If that doesn’t do it for you, start a discussion on IAFC KnowledgeNet to find other leaders’ approaches.

These tips are meant to guide you in the right direction, but they aren’t absolutes. To be clear, this is by no means legal advice; to ensure you’re entirely compliant, consult your own legal counsel.


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