Home Furnishings Association asks for ADA website guidance

The Home Furnishings Association has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to set guidelines for commercial website compliance under the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

In a letter to Eric S. Dreiband, the assistant attorney general who heads the Civil Rights Division, HFA CEO Sharron L. Bradley noted that businesses are expected to make their websites and apps accessible to consumers with visual impairments but lack enough direction. 

The HFA is an association of more than 1,400 furniture retailers across the country. “Our members operate websites that convey information about their businesses to potential customers,” Bradley wrote. “They want their websites to be fully accessible to all members of the public but need clear guidance on how to achieve ADA compliance.” 

Courts have established that websites are part of a business’ public accommodation. 

“In its Robles v. Domino’s Pizza ruling issued Jan. 15, 2019, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals said the ADA requires places of public accommodation to ‘provide auxiliary aids and services to make visual materials available to individuals who are blind.  This requirement applies to Domino’s website and app, even though customers predominantly access them away from the physical restaurant,’ ” Bradley wrote. “We recognize that the court could make the same finding regarding our members, who sell furniture rather than pizzas.” 

The Civil Rights Division, which administers the Americans with Disabilities Act, stated last year that it is “evaluating whether promulgating specific web accessibility standards through regulation is necessary and appropriate.” 

“Our members are not in favor of unnecessary or excessive federal regulation,” Bradley wrote. “In this case, however, the lack of a blueprint exposes them to liability if they are unable to meet unforeseen or unreasonable demands for ADA website accessibility that a plaintiff may claim in court. In effect, our members could be held to an unknown standard and could incur legal costs beyond their ability to pay. 

“Most furniture retail stores are small businesses that are trying to compete in a challenging retail environment. They are employers, taxpayers and contributors to their communities. Their websites are an increasingly important tool for communicating with customers, but it is difficult for them to know what they must do to make sure that every member of the public can reasonably utilize those sites.” 

HFA believes that the Civil Rights Division has an obligation to help businesses meet their responsibilities under the law and avoid costly and unnecessary litigation. More information here.

The full text of Bradley’s letter follows: 

Dear Mr. Dreiband, 

On behalf of the Home Furnishings Association, which represents more than 1,400 furniture retailers across the United States, I am asking the Civil Rights Division to establish written guidelines for website compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Our members operate websites that convey information about their businesses to potential customers. They want their websites to be fully accessible to all members of the public but need clear guidance on how to achieve ADA compliance. 

In its Robles v. Domino’s Pizza ruling issued Jan. 15, 2019, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals said the ADA requires places of public accommodation to “provide auxiliary aids and services to make visual materials available to individuals who are blind.  This requirement applies to Domino’s website and app, even though customers predominantly access them away from the physical restaurant.”  

We recognize that the court could make the same finding regarding our members, who sell furniture rather than pizzas. 

The court rejected Domino’s argument that it lacks clear direction on how it should construct its website to meet ADA requirements. “While we understand why Domino’s wants DOJ to issue specific guidelines for website and app accessibility, the Constitution only requires that Domino’s receive fair notice of its legal duties, not a blueprint for compliance with its statutory obligations,” the court wrote. 

Yet, the Civil Rights Division in 2010 published a notice of its intent “to establish requirements for making the goods, services, facilities, privileges, accommodations, or advantages offered by public accommodations via the Internet, specifically at sites on the World Wide Web (Web), accessible to individuals with disabilities.” It never accomplished that task but stated again in 2018 that it is “evaluating whether promulgating specific web accessibility standards through regulation is necessary and appropriate.” 

Our members are not in favor of unnecessary or excessive federal regulation; in this case, however, the lack of a blueprint exposes them to liability if they are unable to meet unforeseen or unreasonable demands for website accessibility that a plaintiff may claim in court. In effect, our members could be held to an unknown standard and could incur legal costs beyond their ability to pay. 

Most furniture retail stores are small businesses that are trying to compete in a challenging retail environment. They are employers, taxpayers and contributors to their communities. Their websites are an increasingly important tool for communicating with customers, but it is difficult for them to know what they must do to make sure that every member of the public can reasonably utilize those sites. 

Even in its Robles ruling, the Ninth Circuit court declined to provide clarity on the details of ADA compliance. Rather, it merely established that compliance is required and remanded to the District Court the task of determining whether Domino’s website does so or not. “Properly framed, the issues for the district court to resolve on remand are whether Domino’s website and app provide the blind with auxiliary aids and services for effective communication and full and equal enjoyment of its products and services,” the appellate court wrote. 

This just continues the uncertainty as courts across the country are likely to measure the efforts of individual businesses against a broad and ill-defined standard of “full and equal enjoyment” of products and services. Various courts are not likely to draw consistent conclusions until DOJ sets firm guidelines for achieving ADA compliance. I respectfully ask for your attention to this issue. 

Sincerely yours, 

Sharron L. Bradley, CEO 

Home Furnishings Association 

Share this post |

Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email
HFA Members

Not an HFA member?

Don't miss out on all of our association benefits!