The Basics of ADA Compliance in New York - Romano Law

The Basics of ADA Compliance in New York

The Basics of ADA Compliance in New York

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Recently, a wave of litigants in New York have commenced lawsuits, pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), alleging that a company’s failure to provide Braille on gift cards violates the ADA. While businesses may be familiar with the basics of ADA compliance, this new litigation may come as a surprise.

The ADA prohibits discrimination “on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation.” While the clearest examples of the ADA in action are the installation of ramps and accessible bathrooms, compliance is often more expansive and can be confusing.

For example, in the past few years, many lawsuits have been filed concerning website accessibility. A website is considered inaccessible when it cannot easily be read by screen reader, which is a device that is used by the blind or visually impaired to navigate the internet. Currently, there is a disagreement among the federal circuit courts concerning whether the ADA applies to all, some or no websites associated with a business. Most of this disagreement centers around whether a website is a place of public accommodation and/or whether a nexus between a website and a place of public accommodation is required.

Starting in the fall of 2019, many lawsuits were filed in the federal courts of New York against retailers and restaurants for violations of the ADA and New York State and New York City Human Rights Law with respect to gift cards, using arguments similar to those used by the plaintiffs in website accessibility suits.

The plaintiffs assert that gift cards are “places of public accommodation.” As such, they claim that those with visual impairments have been discriminated against because they cannot purchase cards, distinguish one card from another, see the denomination written on the card, or read the terms and other information printed on the packaging. The lawsuits seek to compel businesses to print the card and related materials in Braille. These suits also seek compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees.

It is not clear whether these lawsuits will be successful. Prior court decisions have not required Braille to be used to identify all goods and services offered by a business. For example, price tags and menus do not have to be in Braille if businesses can provide alternative means that enable access by individuals with visual impairments. In addition, the ADA specifies that businesses are not required to alter their inventory to include accessible or special goods that are designed for, or facilitate use by, individuals with disabilities. However, as this is a new area of litigation, business owners should stay abreast of developments in ADA compliance.

If you offer gift cards, discuss this issue with experienced counsel to determine whether you should take any action to minimize potential liability.

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This Blog is made available by Romano Law PLLC for general informational and educational purposes only, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this Blog you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and Romano Law PLLC or any individual contributor. You should consult a licensed professional attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.

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