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October 22, 2019

The Domino’s Pizza accessibility lawsuit: What you need to know

Written by Luke Bishop

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990, before the internet became widely used. Years later, there are still no enforceable ADA legal standards for website accessibility. In the absence of legal standards and guidelines, the issue of accessibility is being shaped in court fights between disability advocates and businesses. One high-profile example in the news lately is the court case of Domino’s Pizza v. Robles, which focuses on a blind man’s lawsuit against Domino’s Pizza over the accessibility of the restaurant chain’s website and app. In the following Q&A, we address a number of questions that have arisen as businesses react to the court case.

What exactly happened in the Domino’s court case?

On October 7, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed a lawsuit by a blind person filed against Domino’s Pizza to move forward. The individual, Guillermo Robles, had filed a lawsuit against the pizza chain in 2016, claiming that Domino’s website and mobile app were not accessible to him. In his lawsuit, he asserted that an inaccessible website and app were in a direct violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which bans discrimination based on disability.

Robles’s lawsuit, originally filed in the California courts, claimed that on separate occasions, he could not order food from Domino’s because he was unable to use screen reader software to read instructions out loud and order a pizza. In other words, the online experience for Domino’s was incompatible with the assistive technology that blind people need to navigate a site or use an app. He reasoned that websites and apps should be compliant just as brick-and-mortar facilities need to be under the ADA.

Domino’s challenged his original suit. Domino’s reasoned that the ADA was written before the internet came alone, making its applicability to the digital world in dispute. Domino’s also said no clear rules exist for how to make their digital platforms accessible. On October 7, the Supreme Court denied a petition from Domino’s on Monday to hear whether its website is required to be accessible to the disabled. So after a few years of legal wrangling, the U.S. Supreme court sided with Guillermo Robles in allowing the lawsuit to proceed in a District court.

What does the ADA say about website accessibility today?

The ADA requires that federal, state, and local governments meet accessibility standards. But there are no enforceable ADA legal standards for website accessibility.

Why is the Domino’s lawsuit significant?

The Domino’s lawsuit is one of more than 2,000 lawsuits filed over website accessibility in 2018, and the number of lawsuits is increased. Businesses may lack a legal mandate from the ADA, but on the other hand, they don’t want to be the target of lawsuits, either.  The Domino’s lawsuit could result in more businesses working harder to make their online experience accessible to those with disabilities.

Because the Domino’s case is so high profile, the case is already a victory for those with disabilities. That’s because the case has cast a spotlight on the difficulties that 61 million Americans with disabilities face navigating the digital world.

What happens next with the Domino’s lawsuit?

The lawsuit will proceed. Domino’s will need to defend itself in a U.S. District Court against the accusation that its online experience violates the ADA. Domino’s might be legally required to make its site and app accessible.

How do I know if my site is compliant? What standard do I use?

According to the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, “Because the ADA does not specifically mention websites, it also does not outline standards for how organizations can make their websites accessible. However, the DOJ has frequently cited recommendations such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 as acceptable metrics for accessibility. WCAG 2.0 includes many different criteria at three different success levels’ of accessibility, ranging from high-contrast color schemes to closed captions for video content.”

Being compliant is a complicated issue especially as technologies change. As Minh Vu, an attorney at Seyfarth Shaw, told CNet, “If you put in a ramp and you make it correct, that’s pretty much the end of it. Even if you make a website accessible one day, a year from then or even six months from that time, the website may fall out of compliance because things change all the time.”

We suggest that when you design an experience, consider the separation of the content from the presentation layer. Decoupling content from the presentation layer makes it possible to focus on creating compelling content while accommodating how technology is rapidly evolving to make a site more accessible. To be accessible, your site needs to evolve with technologies such as voice and facial recognition. Headless content management systems such as Investis Digital’s Connect.ID help you create content while changing your presentation layer to do that.

Should I try to make my online experience compliant even if there is no formal ADA legal requirement?

Yes. It’s the right thing to do and the sensible thing to do. Making your site compliant makes your business more accessible to millions of Americans who struggle to navigate digital. When your site becomes more accessible, you gain more customers. Accessibility affects all aspects of a website and all audiences: investors, job seekers, and customers. The issue affects everyone from investor relations professional to communications directors.

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