Napa County Wineries Sued Over Website Accessibility Seek Clearer Compliance Terms | Local News

Dozens of Napa County wineries have been sued for website accessibility noncompliance over the past year, causing frustration and confusion for businesses affected by the lawsuits.

Trade groups estimate that about four dozen local wineries have been sued, with the overwhelming majority of lawsuits coming from a single plaintiff, Andres Gomez, who has filed hundreds of such lawsuits dating back to at least 2016. company representing Gomez in some of those cases, an offshoot of Potter Handy LLP in San Diego called The Center for Disability Access, had not responded for comment at the time of publication.

It is a common experience through different industries and regions in the United States, and the wine industry is only the latest to face a legal challenge over website accessibility. Specifically, to be compliant, businesses must ensure that every page on their website can be easily processed by screen-reading programs or other assistive technologies, that photos are accompanied by text descriptions, and that the design features conform to the ADA Requirements.

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However, if you don’t personally use these accessibility features or screen for their usefulness, things can fall through the cracks, preventing some people from using your site.

“We first communicated with members on this issue in 2018, and at that time it was really about making sure members understood that if they had a place of business in the world and that ‘they were also in the web space, that they have to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and make sure their websites are accessible,’ said Michelle Novi, director of industry relations and regulatory affairs for Napa Valley Vintners.

“I think what’s been difficult is what it means – what accessibility really means – has been a little squishy, ​​and so it’s been hard to figure out if their website is fully compliant,” she said.

Novi says that as such, she doesn’t see this increase in lawsuits as a problem of local businesses not prioritizing accessibility, but rather talks about the complicated nature of these laws and the fact that wineries are constantly updating their sites with new wines, experiences and photos.

“It’s really easy, and almost likely in some ways if you’re not beyond vigilant, that an image you have on your site doesn’t include the alternate descriptive text that can be read by software. screen reading,” Novi said.

Some of the Napa County wineries that have been sued include Bennett Lane Winery, Kieu Hoang Winery, Brown Estate Vineyards, Sutter Home Winery and Reid Family Vineyards — whose owner has multiple sclerosis and advocates for people with disabilities like himself. The companies being sued were not made aware of the problems accessing their website before legal action was taken.

“Being in a wheelchair, of course, I want our site to be accessible, but also being the owner of our family business, we don’t want to be sued from the start, which happened,” Kevin Reid said. . from the Reid family vineyards. “So there have to be both sides. It has to be accessible, of course… But hey, for us, being sued for not being accessible was quite ironic.

Novi says there are a range of accessibility scan tools and service providers to help with these website issues, and the NVV will host a webinar for its members on April 22 to discuss the topic and how. solve it as a community. Accessibility consultants and other experts will be present at the event to offer their ideas and advice.

“We will also have included the legal perspective, and we have a speaker who represents the National Federation of the Blind, because they are actually working on drafting a bill that will help make the rules and requirements that companies have to respect a little. clearer,” Novi said.

Novi says this legislation would also empower the Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to investigate problems as they arise and act on them, rather than people filing complaints without notice or opportunity to resolve the issue.

“So the situation has more to do with just trying to get everyone up to speed to understand what these rules really require,” she said.

You can reach Sam Jones at 707-256-2221 and [email protected]

Daniel L. Vasquez