Most club operators are familiar with the requirements set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which ensures clubs are accessible to people with disabilities. Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability with regards to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation, including health clubs. What is coming as a very unpleasant shock to an increasing number of businesses—including health club operators—is that the ADA also applies to a business’ website.
You could say the ADA began extending requirements to websites of clubs—and all public accommodations—in 2006-2007 when the Department of Justice expanded accessibility requirements to government websites and published a Best Practices Toolkit for State and Local Governments. This toolkit included a checklist designed for use in conducting a preliminary assessment for accessibility for government agency websites.
However, it is only in the last few years that plaintiffs’ attorneys representing people with disabilities started filing public accommodations lawsuits claiming that businesses’ websites are not accessible to people with disabilities. The law firm Seyfarth Shaw reported that, “Plaintiffs filed 4965 federal ADA Title III lawsuits in just the first six months of 2018.” Action at the state level during the same time period was just as busy, further reporting that, “New York (1026 lawsuits) has overtaken Florida (882 lawsuits) for the honor of having the second highest number of ADA Title III lawsuits, with California (2155 lawsuits) retaining its number one position as the most busy jurisdiction for ADA Title III filings.”
Health clubs are not exempt from this lawsuit frenzy and are finding themselves facing disability groups over their website’s accessibility.