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Looking for Love in Inaccessible Places: Match.com Goes to Court

E Foley 10/03/17

match.com logo“Love is blind,” the old saying goes. But a new lawsuit alleges that singles who are blind or low vision are being denied the ability to find love on Match.com. The plaintiff, Joseph DePhillips, filed a complaint with the federal court in New York on September 28, 2017.

Joseph DePhillips, a resident of Arlington, Virginia, filed this class action lawsuit in the federal court of New York on behalf of himself and other blind and low vision individuals. DePhillips is legally blind and uses a screen reader to access websites. When he attempted to make a profile and search for dates on Match.com, he encountered numerous accessibility barriers, including lack of alt-text, inaccessible forms, lack of clear navigation links, improper labeling, and more.

One example:

The Website also lacks accessible forms. Editable boxes allow users to specify the gender, age range, and search radius of potential matches. On the Website, blind customers are unable to fill in their desired specifications because the screen reader does not indicate the function of the boxes. For example, instead of reading “seeking [men] or [women]”, the box simply reads, “edit, blank”. As a result, blind customers are denied access to appropriate date search. Therefore, blind customers are unsuccessful in searching and browsing through profiles on the Website.

Some questions you may have:

Q:        Why is the complaint filed in New York? The plaintiff lives in Virginia.

A:         Match.com is headquartered in New York.  Also, recent judgements about digital accessibility in New York have been in favor of the plaintiff, requiring the defendant to make its website accessible. (See our blog post about the Five Guys decision.) New York also offers the opportunity for four causes of action: under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the New York State Human Rights Law, the New York State Civil Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law.

Q:        Is Match.com a “place of public accommodation” under the ADA?

A:         Good question! We will be watching this case closely to see what the court decides. In a case like Five Guys, it was easy to prove a nexus between the website and the physical restaurants. There is not a clear nexus between the Match.com website and a physical location.

Q:        What about alt-text? How would Match.com be able to provide alt-text for every photo uploaded by every member of the site?

A:         They couldn’t. Given the millions of photos uploaded by members, Match.com could probably argue it would be an undue burden for their employees to write alt-text for each of them. Even if Match.com required members to write descriptions of their photos when uploading them, we doubt they’d be “sufficiently descriptive” like alt-text should be. (Sufficiently flirty, maybe. Descriptive? Not so much.)

Want to learn more about the ADA and digital accessibility?

If you have a website and you’re wondering just what to expect if you’re on the receiving end of a demand letter or a legal complaint, download our free whitepaper.

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