A blind woman is alleging in Chicago federal court that three major retailers are denying her, and similarly vision-impaired people, access to their websites in violation of federal law.
Kayla Reed, who lives in the Los Angeles area, filed suits Sept. 8 in U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois against hardware retailer Ace Hardware, flooring retailer Empire Today and discount store chain Kmart. The companies are based in suburban Chicago, with Ace in Oakbrook, Empire in Northlake and Kmart in Hoffman Estates.
Reed is represented in the actions by attorneys with the PaytonDann firm, of Chicago, and Manning Law Office, of Newport Beach, Calif. These firms are also handling similar website suits lodged this year in Chicago federal court on behalf of other blind plaintiffs against such notable Chicago-area based companies as Kraft Heinz Foods; retail giant Sears; the McDonald’s fast-food chain; and GrubHub, which offers an on-demand food delivery service.
The litigation against Kraft Heinz Foods was settled June 26 for an undisclosed amount; the other cases remain pending.
In the new litigation, Reed, who is blind, alleges the companies maintain websites for consumers that are unusable for the vision-impaired. The federal Americans with Disabilities Act requires sales, rental and service establishments accommodate the vision-impaired. As a consequence, Reed claims the companies are breaching the ADA across the country, and California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act.
“As an essential tool for many Americans, when accessible, the Internet provides individuals with disabilities great independence,” Reed observed.
Reed said the vision-impaired can use software that “reads” a website’s content, by converting the information into speech that is read back to the user. However, a website’s information must be able to be rendered into meaningful text for the software to work. Reed alleged that when she has visited the websites, she has encountered “access barriers.” These barriers consist of graphics, links and buttons that are not labeled or wrongly labeled, or lack alternative text, which is an embedded invisible code. Further, Reed charged the websites are confusingly structured. All these factors prevent or obstruct navigation of the sites for the vision-impaired, Reed claimed.
In the case of Kmart, Reed is also alleging that company’s mobile app is not accessible to the blind.
Reed said the U.S. Department of Justice has consistently stated the ADA's accessibility requirements apply to websites belonging to private companies. Reed further noted other large corporations do maintain websites usable by the blind.
Under the ADA, Reed wants an injunction to force the companies to correct the problems, as well as an unspecified amount of money for her mental anguish, loss of dignity and any other intangible injuries.
Under the Unruh Act, Reed wants statutory minimum damages of $4,000 per violation.
The Ace suit is assigned to Judge Ruben Castillo, with Judge Thomas Durkin handling Kmart and Judge Robert Gettleman presiding over Empire.