Walker Furniture, HFA appeal to Washington for ADA clarity

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Jeff Smith is general manager of Walker Furniture in Gainesville, Fla.

Jeff Smith asked his representatives in Washington for help, and the Home Furnishings Association is backing him up.

Smith’s story was told in HFA’s July Government Relations newsletter. Smith, the general manager of HFA member Walker Furniture in Gainesville, Fla., received a demand letter from an attorney representing a client who claimed Walker’s website wasn’t accessible to people who are visually impaired and thus violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Smith quickly investigated the complaint, directed his web designer to make improvements and hired an attorney of his own. After weeks of negotiations, it appeared that Walker Furniture would end up paying a settlement in addition to its other expenses – a total cost of several thousand dollars.

One fact he learned is that it’s hard to know when your business website is fully compliant because the U.S. Department of Justice, which administers the ADA, has never published regulations. It has resisted requests to do so.

Smith wrote to his representatives in Congress, Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott and Rep. Ted Yoho, to ask them to push the matter with the Justice Department.

“I understand and support our Republican Party’s stance on reducing regulations on businesses, but with lawyers gaming the system, the law of unintended consequences has opened the floodgate of lawsuits and small businesses are paying a very high price,” Smith wrote. 

“Again, I ask that you help by emphasizing to the DOJ to set specific formal regulations to guarantee the ADA laws are being used to assure access to all individuals as the law was intended, not for lawyers whose only interest is using the law to make easy money.”

HFA CEO Sharron Bradley wrote to Rubio, Scott and Yoho in support of Smith and Walker Furniture.

“Our association has asked DOJ’s Office of Civil Rights to address this matter but has not received a reply,” she wrote. “So, we are joining Jeff to ask you to intervene on behalf of Walker Furniture and countless other businesses. We hope you will urge DOJ to specify what they must do to meet ADA accessibility requirements for their websites. Otherwise, they will remain vulnerable to threats of legal action and high costs of defending themselves against unreasonable claims.”

Correction: The original story about Jeff Smith and Walker Furniture reported that businesses with fewer than 15 employees are exempt from the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, that is only true for accommodations for employees, not for the public.

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