Public Accommodations Pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) establishes which buildings and public structures must be compliant and be accessible to those with disabilities. In general, most commercial buildings and public areas which are open to the public must provide accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Commercial buildings are regularly and consistently regarded as a “place of public accommodation.” Determining whether a place meets this standard is oftentimes more difficult than one would expect.

For example, in the case of Earll v. eBay, Melissa Earll, a deaf woman, tried to register as a seller on eBay so she could sell collectible items online. Melissa came into a roadblock with eBay’s seller verification system, which required sellers to retrieve and submit a password via their telephone. Melissa couldn’t hear the password, and therefore, she was unable to get verified as a seller. Melissa then filed a lawsuit against eBay under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The issue in this case is whether an online only business could be deemed to be subject to the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In the case here, the Ninth Circuit on appeal, found that, a website not connected to any physical place, is not a “place of public accommodation” subject to the accessibility requirements of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The court ruled that digital activities and websites are not yet subject to the regulations because there is no specific reference to such business activities in the ADA language. While digital activities and websites are still not subject to the ADA, perhaps the future will bring regulation in this arena.

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