ADA Accessibilityby Diane Medina

As businesses rely more and more on digital marketing and analytics, it seems to go without saying that most breweries nowadays have their own dedicated websites to show off their tasty beverages and sweet merch options to the beer-consuming public. And with so many platforms like Squarespace and Wix, it’s easier than ever to build a basic website on the cheap for even the most unrefined coder whose only web-based experience is copying and pasting some html codes into their MySpace page in the early aughts. Respect to the Top 8.

But as some breweries have discovered, that cheap and easy website platform can come with a hefty price if the wrong visitor happens upon their page.

There has been a significant increase in lawsuits filed by blind and visually impaired persons against various companies in the service industry in the last five years. From hotels and restaurants to credit unions and breweries, any business with a website and a brick and mortar location is now fair game for professional plaintiffs seeking money damages for failing to have accessible webpages for those with certain disabilities.

Here are the four things you need to know about website accessibility to protect your bottom line from easy money lawsuits:

1. The Americans with Disabilities Act & The California Unruh Act

Website lawsuits are rooted in both federal and state law here in California. At the federal level is the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination based on disability by what the law calls, “public accommodations” (i.e. your brewery). Historically, public accommodation used to refer to the physical space of a brick and mortar store. Upon a finding of an ADA violation in those physical locations, companies would be required to pay certain damages to plaintiffs and were also required to provide “reasonable modifications” to ensure effective access to the disabled.

The State of California has its own civil rights statute, the Unruh Act, which provides a right of action for both violations of the ADA and for other alleged denials of access to disabled individuals on the basis of intentional discrimination.

The expansion of online commerce requires businesses to ask, does Title III apply to websites? Courts have answered that question with a resounding, YES. Specifically, courts have held that a denial of access to a website can support an ADA claim if the denial prevents a blind or visually impaired person from enjoying the goods or services at the brick and mortar location. As such, websites are considered places of public accommodation where there is a connection to a physical location and an inaccessible website may ultimately leave the business susceptible to a claim under the ADA and by extension, under the Unruh Act.

For each occurrence of inaccessibility, California statutory damages are a minimum of $4,000 per occurrence or violation. Which means that potentially each barrier an individual encounters on the website adds to the pile of damages to be asserted should the suit eventually be filed. There is also a provision for attorney’s fees under this law, and since most plaintiffs in these matters do not pay their attorney in these cases, those attorney fees can rack up once the case has reached the litigation stage. So these cases can be extremely expensive if your website is not up to par when it comes to accessibility.

2. Steps to Make Your Website More Accessible

While there is no hard fast rule for how websites must be accessible since websites were not contemplated when the ADA was first implemented, a California court has previously required a defendant to comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG), published by the World Wide Web Consortium. The most recent version of these guidelines is the 2.2 version. Compliance with these guidelines seem to be the new “reasonable modifications” for which access is enabled for those with disabilities.

For those who are blind or visually impaired, the use of a screen reader is often employed to access websites. If there are images which do not have text alternatives describing the images to those screen readers, then your website likely has accessibility issues. If there is video with sound on your website, you should make sure that captions are enabled for any hearing impaired visitors. If you offer direct-to-consumer sales of either beer products or your merch, your sales software should be compatible with accessibility devices as well to ensure that your goods and services offered on-premise can be enjoyed by individuals with disabilities from the comfort of their own homes.

It is your responsibility to protect your business’s bottom line, so we would also recommend adding an accessibility statement to your business’s landing page and making sure there is a telephone number and/or email address prominently displayed on the landing page that offers users help, like: “If you are having trouble accessing our content or having issues completing a commercial transaction, please call or email us and we will assist you as needed.” And make sure whomever is answering that number or email is trained to provide help to disabled customers with these website issues and can accommodate the issues experienced to avoid a letter of complaint.

These recommendations are just a small portion of what the WCAG 2.2 believes to be a fully accessible website. And while some of these measures may require a small investment on your brewery’s part, it will inevitably save you even more money in the long run against serial plaintiffs who actively hunt for these issues so that they can lead a class action suit against your business

3. Notice of Intent to File a Lawsuit

Typically, these type of suits are not filed without a warning shot first. This is always in the form of a notice letter from a law firm, and sometimes even an email. If you’re in California, this letter may come from a particular law firm based out of Newport Beach. Do NOT ignore the notice and hope it will go away by itself. It will not.

The notice will not reveal who the plaintiff is, but rather that the law firm has been retained by a blind consumer intending to file a suit against you under the California Unruh Act because your company’s web address is not fully accessible to blind users. They may include a description about disability laws and punctuate the letter with a relevant case law citation and either indicate the issues their client allegedly experienced, or that they will provide you with a summary of the barriers upon request.

The best course of action is to resolve these complaints early at a favorable price without incurring too many fees. Allowing these plaintiffs and their attorney to file the lawsuit will only serve to increase the eventual dollar figure it will take to make this thing go away; even if you decide to vehemently defend against these actions at trial. Lawsuits can take years before they get to a trial, so not only are you paying your own legal counsel’s fees, but also, if trial does not go favorably for your business, then you will also end up paying all of the attorney fees incurred in their work up to and through the trial on top of the damages discussed above for each barrier the plaintiff experienced on your website.

4. Invest to Protect and Other Options

We encourage all businesses in the industry to seek out the WCAG 2.2 guidelines and incorporate those guidelines into their websites so that it minimizes the likelihood of the business receiving one of these notices. It is true that some of these fixes may cost money that may not be budgeted for, but writing a check to your web developer team feels so much better than writing a check to a law firm who doesn’t deserve your hard-earned cash and is just looking for a state-sanctioned handout.

Alternatively, if remedial measures are impossible to afford, then it may be time to assess whether the cost of having a website is even worth the trouble. If you do not offer direct-to-customer sales for merch or beer, or the revenue that does come from those sales is nominal, then perhaps you are better off shutting the whole website down altogether. Professional plaintiffs can’t sue what they can’t find.

Most breweries nowadays should have some form of social media presence whether it’s on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok or any of the other popular platforms. The great thing about those platforms is that individual businesses are not responsible for ADA compliance issues on those apps or websites. So your business account pages can still have some form of web presence without an actual website. Designating an email address or phone number in your social media bio for beer and merch orders could be a new approach to eliminating accessibility issues and creates a fair and balanced opportunity for consumers of all abilities or disabilities to be able to enjoy your goods and services without having to visit your tasting rooms.

To sum up, if you currently operate a website, ADA regulations will apply to its accessibility measures. The best practice in maintaining your website is make sure it is as compliant as possible with the WCAG 2.2 guidelines or take it offline until you can remediate those issues. Conduct a cost-benefit analysis on whether or not it is in the best interest of your business to shut down the website indefinitely and rely solely on your social media accounts for marketing purposes. And finally, if you have received a notice regarding accessibility issues on your website, don’t ignore it! Feel free to reach out to us as we can negotiate these matters to resolve them as quickly as possible.


The information contained in this article does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice; instead all information, content and materials available herein are for general informational purposes only. Information in this article may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information. This article contains links to other third-party websites. Such links are only for the convenience of the reader, user, or browser; Craft Beer Attorney and its employees, agents, affiliates and representatives do not recommend or endorse the contents of third-party sites.
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