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Penrose Hill/Firstleaf sued, complaint alleges civil rights violations of disabled web site access. Class action requested


New York resident Kareem Nisbett, who is legally blind, has sued the Penrose Hill wine company alleging civil rights violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL), and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL).


A summons has been issued by the court, but Penrose Hill has not yet filed a legal response. Wine Industry Insight has been unable to make contact with the company for a response. This article will be updated if/when a response is available.
The plaintiff, Kareem Nisbett — who is legally blind — is asking the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York for a permanent injunction to force Penrose Hill to make its website accessible to blind and visually-impaired consumers. In addition, the complaint seeks class-action status on behalf of others who are unable to access the site.

The complaint alleges that:

Defendant’s policy and practice to deny Plaintiff Nisbett and other blind or visually-impaired users access to its Website, thereby denying the facilities and services that are offered and integrated with Defendant’s online retail and subscription service. Due to its failure and refusal to remove access barriers to its Website, Plaintiff Nisbett and visually-impaired persons have been and are still being denied equal access to Defendant’s online retail and subscription service and the numerous facilities, goods, services, and benefits offered to the public through its Website.

Complaint alleges that Penrose Hill web site fails to comply with web standards that enhance disabled access

According to the complaint (direct quotes from the legal document – minor format changes have been made to improve readability) Penrose Hill/Firstleaf has not complied with the following requirements of web standards that provide disabled access.


Blind and visually impaired users of Windows operating system-enabled computers and devices have several screen-reading software programs available to them. Some of these programs are available for purchase and other programs are available without the user having to purchase the program separately. Job Access With Speech (“JAWS”) and VoiceOver are the most popular.


For screen-reading software to function, the information on a website must be capable of being rendered into text. If the website content is not capable of being rendered into text, the blind or visually impaired user is unable to access the same content available to sighted users.


The international website standards organization, the World Wide Web Consortium, known throughout the world as W3C, has published version 2.0 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG 2.0”). WCAG 2.0 are well-established guidelines for making websites accessible to blind and visually impaired people. These guidelines are universally followed by most large business entities and government agencies to ensure its websites are accessible.

For a website to be equally accessible to a blind or visually impaired person, under these guidelines, it should have following:


  • Alternative text (“alt-text”) or text equivalent for every non-text element. Alt-text is an invisible code embedded beneath a graphical image on a website.  Web accessibility requires that alt-text be coded with each picture so that screen-reading software can speak the alt-text where a sighted user sees pictures, which includes captcha prompts. Alt-text does not change the visual presentation, but instead a text box show when the mouse moves over the picture. The lack of alt-text on these graphics prevents screen readers from accurately vocalizing a description of the graphics, depriving that person from knowing what is on the website.


  • Videos have audio description.


  • Title frames with text are provided. Absent these titles, navigating a website is particularly difficult.


  • Webpage headings are properly labeled with the topic or purpose of the webpage, versus being blank. Screen readers read out page headings, allowing users to quickly skip to a section. Navigation is, however, very difficult without those headings.


  • Equivalent text is provided when using scripts.


  • Forms may be completed with the same information and functionality as for sighted persons. Absent forms being properly labeled, it is difficult for a visually impaired or blind individual to complete the forms, as they do not know what the fields, how to input data, or what options to select (e.g., selecting a date or a size).


  • A compliant website will, instead, provide labels or instructions when content requires user input. This includes captcha prompts, requiring the user to verity that he or she is not a robo
  • Information about the meaning and structure of content is conveyed by more than the visual presentation of content.


  • Web pages do not share the same ID or title. When two or more elements on a web page share the same ID or title, it cause problems in screen readers which use IDs for labeling controls and table headings.


  • Linked images must contain alt-text explaining the image. Absent that alt-text, a screen reader has no content to present the user as to what the image is.


  • The purpose of each link is easily determined from how the link is labeled. Absent properly labeling each link or when no description exists, it confuses keyboard and screen-reader users as they do not know the purpose of the links. This includes captcha prompts.


  • No redundant links where adjacent links go to the same URL address. When redundant links exist, it causes additional navigation and repetition for keyboard and screen-reader users.


  • Portable Document Formats (PDFs) are accessible. When they are inaccessible, the visually impaired or blind individual cannot learn what information is on them.


  • One or more keyboard operable user interface has a mode of operation where the keyboard focus indicator is discernible.


  • Changing the setting of a user interface component does not automatically cause a change of content where the user has not been advised before using the component


  • The name and role of all user interface elements can be programmatically determined; items that can be set by the user can be programmatically set; and/or notification of changes to these items are available to user agents, including assistive technology.


The full legal pdf document is available here for Wine Executive News Premium Subscribers