BRADENTON BEACH – The city has shut down its website until it can be made compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The city website was shut down last week at the request of Mayor John Chappie after he learned of a $16,000 settlement agreement Manatee County recently reached regarding the Joel Price v. Manatee County lawsuit filed with The United States District Court Middle District of Florida Tampa Division.
Price and his Miami-based attorney, Scott Dinin, alleged the county website violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and sought injunctive relief to remedy alleged accessibility barriers at the county website.
“Plaintiff alleges he attempted to access electronic PDF documents on the website, but the website did not integrate with his screen reader software and he could not access the electronic content,” the settlement agreement says.
The settlement agreement says the county “does not admit and expressly denies the allegations set forth in the lawsuit and denies that the website is in violation of any law, including but not limited to Title II of the ADA and/or section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.”
It also says, “The parties desire to avoid the expense, time, effort and uncertainty of further litigation, and have agreed to a full and final settlement of all claims that were or could have been raised in the lawsuit.”
The agreement gives the county 14 months to use “commercially reasonable efforts” to improve accessibility for blind and visually-impaired users when accessing electronic documents at the county website.
The settlement agreement also applies to the Clerk of the Circuit Court, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, Manatee County Tax Collector, Manatee County Property Appraiser website and the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections websites. The county websites will remain active until the compatibility changes are made.
The settlement agreement provided the county 30 days to tender a $16,000 check made payable to Dinin. The agreement states $15,000 is for the plaintiff’s attorney fees and costs, and $1,000 is for any and all damages incurred by the plaintiff (Price).
Earlier this year, Price initiated similar ADA-compliance lawsuits against Brevard County and the Celebration Golf Course in Orlando. Both lawsuits were dismissed by The United States District Court Middle District of Florida Orlando Division. A similar ADA-compliance lawsuit Juan Carlos Gil filed against Brevard County was dismissed.
An ADA-compliance lawsuit Eddie Sierra filed against the Florida Legislature and Florida State University regarding the Florida Channel’s closed captioning services was also recently dismissed.
Chappie initiated the website compliance discussion during the City Commission’s Thursday, Nov. 1, meeting.
“There’s a cottage industry with attorneys, and they have filed litigation in New York and in Florida. I gave an executive order to shut down our website until we can figure how we’re going to deal with our website, making it ADA-compatible,” Chappie said.
“What they’re saying is individuals who cannot read a screen need to be able to hear what is on the screen. The safest play is to suspend our website. This is a top priority the mayor has set for staff – to figure out how to get to where we need to be to protect the city’s assets,” City Attorney Ricinda Perry added.
In addition to the Manatee County settlement, Perry said she’s aware of business owners facing similar legal challenges, including legal firms and lodging establishments.
“It’s a huge cottage industry. Unfortunately, the courts agreed that any service you offer must be ADA-compliant,” Perry said.
City Treasurer Shayne Thompson told the commission the city of Palmetto has an ADA accessibility feature at its website. Thompson said the Palmetto website is host by a company, CivicPlus, that represents more than 3,000 governmental entities.
As the commission’s website liaison, Commissioner Jake Spooner noted that a year ago he was tasked with looking into upgrading the city website. At the time, Spooner reached out to Revize – the firm that does the city of Anna Maria’s website – but the commission never allocated funds or took any additional action.
Spooner said Revize creates and maintains websites for hundreds of cities nationwide and should be able to provide Bradenton Beach with an ADA-compliant website.
Chappie said the Manatee County Commission will hold a commission workshop at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 11, and ADA compliance will be a topic of discussion.
At Chappie’s suggestion, Spooner agreed to take the lead on the city’s efforts to upgrade its website. He said he would research the city of Palmetto’s website and coordinate his efforts with Police Chief Sam Speciale, who serves as the city’s webmaster, working with England-based development technician Keiron Skillet.
On Friday, Spooner contacted Revize and was told it would cost $2,000 to design a new city website and $1,200 a year to maintain it.