Compass slapped with lawsuit over website access for the blind

Discrimination lawsuit highlights legal risk for brokerages that don't comply with Americans with Disabilities Act

Compass is being sued for allegedly failing to make its website fully accessible to blind people, raising the specter that real estate brokerages remain exposed to a legal risk about which the National Association of Realtors had previously warned members.

The suit, which is seeking class-action status and was filed on Dec. 12 in a New York district court, accuses Compass of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for “its failure to design, construct, maintain, and operate its website to be fully accessible to and independently usable by Plaintiff and other blind or visually-impaired people.”

The complaint claims Compass‘ website posed barriers to blind people, including a lack of “alt-text,” which screen-reading software can use to describe pictures to blind people, as well as links that contain no text.

Such challenges meant the plaintiff, who last visited Compass’ website in October, was “unable to find the locations and hours of operation of Defendant’s physical real estate sales offices on its Website and other important information, preventing Plaintiff from visiting the locations to purchase items and to view the items.”

The plaintiff is asking a judge to order Compass to make changes so that its website “will become and remain accessible to blind and visually-impaired people,” a process that the plaintiff requests be overseen by a consultant to help Compass comply with WCAG 2.0 guidelines.

WCAG 2.0 guidelines, created be the World Wide Web Consortium (known as W3C), establish guidelines for making websites accessible to blind people and “are universally followed by most large business entities and government agencies to ensure their websites are accessible,” according to the complaint.

Compass said in a statement to Inman News that the brokerage “takes all allegations involving obligations to those with disabilities very seriously and we are carefully investigating the matter.”

NAR has previously warned that both real estate agents and businesses face liability over inaccessible websites. NAR’s chief technology officer, Mark Lesswing, has said that accessibility issues often relate to menu navigation, clicking and images, the last of which he has said should have “alt tags” that include descriptions “with some particularity.”

Last year, the DOJ, advocacy groups and private plaintiffs were increasingly pursuing enforcement actions, demands and lawsuits related to website accessibility.

Redfin’s Walk Score was hit with a disability discrimination suit over website accessibility in late May 2017. The case was dismissed with prejudice a month later.

Email Teke Wiggin.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a statement from Compass.