The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990 to eliminate discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Over time, as society has become more reliant on the internet, the issue of whether the ADA’s scope extends beyond physical places to online technology has emerged. A circuit split developed on this issue, and courts have discussed three interpretations of the ADA’s scope: (1) the ADA applies to physical places only; (2) the ADA applies to a website or mobile app that has a sufficient nexus to a physical place; or (3) the ADA broadly applies beyond physical places to online technology. In 2019, the Supreme Court turned down an opportunity to settle this circuit split through a case presenting the issue of whether the ADA applies to websites and mobile apps. This was before the COVID-19 pandemic forced our society to utilize online technology more than ever before.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, schools switched to online learning, employees worked remotely, restaurants depended on takeout services through online ordering and consumers utilized online shopping to avoid crowded stores. These online activities and many others, however, may be inaccessible to millions of individuals with disabilities. If the ADA does not apply to online technology, businesses would not be required to design websites and mobile apps that are effectively accessible to individuals with disabilities. These individuals could therefore experience several disadvantages in an internet-dependent society. In 2021, do arguments for a narrow application of the ADA, which limits its scope to physical places only, seem persuasive? This Note discusses why ADA protections should apply beyond physical places, specifically to websites and mobile apps, and why this approach should be adopted nationwide. Without a uniform interpretation of the ADA’s scope, uncertainty surrounding website accessibility litigation will continue as the utilization of online technology continues to increase. This Note also discusses other important aspects of ADA website accessibility litigation, such as establishing standing to sue and asserting statutory defenses against alleged discrimination.
The Future of the Americans with Disabilities Act: Website Accessibility Litigation After COVID-19,
69 Clev. St. L. Rev.
available at https://engagedscholarship.csuohio.edu/clevstlrev/vol69/iss4/9