Wineries being sued for non-compliant websites

April 03, 2019 06:53 PM

Local wineries and bed and breakfasts are being sued by law firms that claim their websites aren’t accessible to the visually impaired.   The owners of the businesses being sued say instead of just asking for the problems to be fixed, the New York City law firms and their clients, want payouts. 

Scott Osborn owns Fox Run Vineyards in Penn Yan.

 On its website, you’ll see all that the winery has to offer, but a legally blind person in New York City says he can’t access the same information, so he is suing.

 “If I'd have been given a letter, a notification, saying 'hey Scott you know your website is hard for my client who can't see to access and these are the ways you can go about fixing the problem', I would have done it immediately,” Osborn says.  

Instead, the firm is demanding a settlement, and if they don’t get it, the lawsuit will move forward in federal court.

The same threat is being made to more than a dozen other wineries in New York State by the same handful of law firms.

"The cost (of fighting a federal case) is so far out of the range for a small business that it's settle, okay how much do you want…I definitely feel like I’m being extorted,” Osborn says.

The lawsuits allege that the winery websites are made and maintained in a way that hinders access by the visually impaired, preventing them from being able to find and buy wines or access proper directions to the wineries physical locations.  

Stephanie Woodward is the Director of Advocacy at the Center for Disability Rights says “these lawsuits tend to give disabled people a bad name, when in fact it is not the entire disability community that is going out and putting forth these lawsuits, it tends to be the law firms that are the drivers on this and as an attorney I can tell you I'm just as disappointed in my profession at this… we have never supported lawsuits that seek damages but do not seek to fix the underlying access issue” she says.

But Woodward does want to be clear, businesses should be in compliance and CDR can help make sure they are.

“Is it (the website) screen-reader accessible?  Blind people use technology that reads the screen to them,” she explains, and that’s where most businesses trip up on their websites: JPEGs without descriptions, maps and uploaded PDF files often aren’t placed on the site in a way that can be translated for the readers.

Osborn says he has hired a company to fix the issues on the Fox Run page. 

“I'm a business owner, all the other wineries are too... we sell a product.  We don't want to eliminate anybody because that's potential income,” he says.  

He’s hoping by providing evidence to the judge that he’s working to correct the problem, the lawsuit will be dismissed.   

There are no federal guidelines on what makes a website ADA-compliant, but many companies follow what are known as Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, issued by the World Wide Web Consortium. 

The Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ABVI) tells News10NBC, “Although we are not involved in the cases, accessibility is one of our core values.  We always gain inputs from people with vision loss to ensure our communication platforms are accessible and user friendly. Additionally, we provide training and support to empower people with vision loss to confidently use adaptive technology. We also partner with other organizations to share best practices for technology platforms including website accessibility.”


Jennifer Lewke

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