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Venue Operators, Plaintiffs’ Attorneys Have Their Sights on Your Sites

By: Edward Cadagin and Erin Winn

Submitted by Firm:
Arnall Golden Gregory LLP
Firm Contacts:
Edward Cadagin, Henry M. Perlowski, Teri A. Simmons
Article Type:
Legal Update
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It is not hard to see the impact the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) has on the layout of American sports and entertainment venues. Wide ramps, dedicated seating areas, and special elevators have all become recognizable hallmarks of our modern-day Colosseums. What most patrons (and even some venues) do not know, however, is that a venue’s website must also comply with the requirements of the ADA. Not only that, but websites of entertainment companies have recently come under scrutiny for failing to make their websites accessible to disabled individuals. With this current trend in mind, owners of sports or entertainment venues should update their websites to ensure accessibility.

Historically, sports and entertainment venues have been the subjects of ADA lawsuits concerning the physical accessibility of the venues. In 2010, the Department of Justice clarified its position the law “reaches the Web sites of entities that provide goods or services that fall within the 12 categories of ‘public accommodations,’ as defined by the statute and regulations.”1 And, in 2022, the DOJ, further clarified that a sports or entertainment venue’s website must be accessible to individuals with disabilities.2

In light of the DOJ’s clarification, the number of ADA lawsuits related to website accessibility has significantly increased. These lawsuits generally include claims that a visually impaired individual is prevented from accessing the full website. Particularly, the lawsuits allege various ADA violations, including that the website lacks:

  1. compatibility with screen reader technology, which reads the text of a website aloud;
  2. alternative text embedded in images, preventing screen reader technology from audibly describing the images;
  3. descriptive link titles for hyperlinks, preventing a screen reader technology from audibly describing where a hyperlink leads; and
  4. keyboard navigation, preventing guests from maneuvering throughout the website without a mouse.

In the context of entertainment websites, a visually impaired individual sued Parkwood Entertainment LLC, a company owned by Beyoncé Knowles, in 2019 for various violations of Title III of the ADA. The plaintiff, on behalf of a class of individuals, alleged that she encountered “barriers which limited [the] accessibility to the goods and services offered on the [Parkwood Entertainment] website.” These barriers included a lack of alternative text for pictures, a lack of accessible drop-down menus, a lack of navigation links, and the inability to use a keyboard instead of a mouse. According to the plaintiff, the absence of these accessibility features prevented her from, among other things, learning about tour dates, purchasing tickets, and purchasing merchandise, as well as gaining early access to news, merchandise, and tickets via the website.

Although the Parkwood Entertainment case did not involve a sports or entertainment venue, the case highlights several aspects of a venue’s website that could cause ADA accessibility issues.

  • First, every venue’s website has a schedule or calendar of upcoming performances or events. To make the calendar or schedule accessible to individuals with disabilities, the webpage should be compatible with screen reading technology and any pictures should have descriptive alternative text. In addition, any hyperlinks on the calendar or schedule should be descriptive to inform individuals specifically where the hyperlink leads.
  • Second, a venue’s website likely provides directions to the venue or general information about accessing the venue. This page should be compatible with screen reading technology to allow guests to have directions and other important information read aloud.
  • Third, if guests can purchase merchandise or tickets on a venue’s website, these pages should include descriptive hyperlinks and alternative text for images. Importantly, any purchase form that a guest is required to complete should provide detailed descriptions of the required information, such as the guest’s address or credit card number. Relatedly, if a guest inputs incorrect information into a purchase form, any error message that results should describe in detail which information is incorrect. With detailed descriptions, screen reading technology can allow the guest to access purchase forms more efficiently.
  • Finally, if a venue’s website has an interactive seat map, it should be accessible to visually impaired individuals. Making these maps accessible may require the venue’s website designers to embed additional alternative text into the different seat views or may require advanced technology.

Updating a venue’s website to comply with accessibility requirements can be a technological undertaking. Making these important updates, however, could prevent a lawsuit against the venue owner for violations of the ADA. For guidance on how to make websites accessible, venue owners can refer to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”).

As always, if you have any questions about ADA compliance or the many rapid developments related to website accessibility lawsuits, please contact a member of AGG’s Entertainment & Sports or Employment Law teams.

 

[1] 75 Fed. Reg. 43460–01 (July 6, 2010).

[2] Guidance on Web Accessibility and the ADA, U.S. Dep’t of Justice (March 18, 2022), https://beta.ada.gov/resources/web-guidance/.

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