PORT CHARLOTTE — A settlement was reached last week in a lawsuit Charlotte County faced over its website.
The county was sued in federal court in January by Juan Carlos Gil, a blind man from Miami.
Gil has filed dozens of other similar lawsuits against businesses and local governments claiming online access is not equal for disabled people, citing violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Gil’s screen reader which he uses to dictate words online, doesn’t work with content like PDF documents. His lawsuit argued the county’s website should be fixed.
According to the settlement, Charlotte County denies its website violates the ADA and disputes the allegations. But “to avoid further costs, burdens and distractions of litigation,” the county settled the lawsuit by agreeing to pay $10,500 for legal fees to Gil’s Miami-based attorney, Scott Dinin.
By Dec. 31, 2020, the county will also make electronic documents on its website, like agenda items, policies, and publications, “fully accessible to individuals who are visually impaired using Web Content Accessibility Guidelines v1.0 as a guideline,” according to the settlement.
The county isn’t required to change any electronic documents on its website posted prior to that date.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are produced by a consortium of private individuals, and are considered the industry standard for website accessibility. There is no federal organization that mandates the particulars of website accessibility, court records show.
“We are about to sign a contract to redesign the website, which will include industry standard accessibility features,” Charlotte County spokesperson Brian Gleason said last week.
The settlement also says Dinin will cooperate with the county for two years if it faces any other suits, by providing “assistance in extinguishing and/or achieving dismissal, removal or rescission of such website accessibility claims.”
Attempts to obtain comment from Dinin and Gil on the settlement were not immediately successful.
Other local governments in Florida have also settled lawsuits recently involving payouts over website accessibility.
According to news reports, Manatee County settled a lawsuit filed by Dinin involving a $16,000 payment. Flagler County commissioners approved a settlement of more than $15,000 in a lawsuit involving content that’s inaccessible with screen readers.
Sarasota County hasn’t been sued in federal court over electronic content being incompatible with screen readers, but county officials have said they’re in the process of making the county website more accessible.
These website accessibility lawsuits nearly tripled last year across the country. There were 814 cases in 2017. That ballooned 177 percent last year, to 2,258, according to an analysis from the law firm Seyfarth Shaw.
Charlotte County has received only a couple requests in the past two years related to document access with screen readers, Gleason said.