In a huge win for people with disabilities and disabilities rights advocates, the Supreme Court declined to hear Domino’s petition to appeal a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling. By declining to hear the petition, the Supreme Court is allowing the decision to stand.
For background, in 2016 a blind man sued Domino’s because he was unable to use the app or website with screen reader software to order a pizza. The suit was originally dismissed because the Justice Department hasn’t released guidelines on how the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to digital platforms, but last year the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Domino’s and other retailers must make their online services accessible.
So what does this mean for retailers who do business online? By allowing the decision to stand, the legal precedent is now set that websites and digital properties must be accessible for people with disabilities, or they run the risk of legal repercussions.
Text colors must be high-contrast against their backgrounds, and various widgets must work with screen readers such as VoiceOver or JAWS. Screen readers use a combination of the HTML and the text on a page to provide an audible version of the digital content, and allow people with disabilities to operate sites and apps with keyboards or other assistive technology (think eye-tracking software, braille displays, or head pointers). However, if the HTML is built incorrectly, screen readers cannot translate it into something that makes sense, and assistive technology can’t interface with the content.
Perhaps in an effort to encourage more App downloads, Domino’s would reward users with points they could collect and redeem for free pizzas if they ordered pizza through the app. Since the app isn’t accessible, and pizza ordered over the phone was not eligible for points, there’s no way for assistive technology users to collect or redeem points for free pizzas; in effect shutting them out of that experience.
Other recent court decisions, such as Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., have found that online retailers violated the ADA because inaccessible sites deny users with disabilities “the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations that Winn-Dixie offers to its sighted customers.” In other words, Title III of the ADA, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in places of public accommodations, applies to websites, apps, and other digital properties. Title III has historically applied to businesses that are generally open to the public, such as restaurants, movie theaters, stores, schools, daycare facilities, and recreational facilities.
The number of ADA Title III website accessibility lawsuits nearly tripled in 2018, from 814 in 2017 to 2,258 in 2018. This Supreme Court decision about Domino’s will ensure that plaintiffs will continue to file high numbers of lawsuits against retailers with inaccessible websites, and we anticipate more businesses taking proactive steps to protect themselves against such litigation and negative publicity.
For more information about Primacy’s Accessibility services, including audits, remediation, and consulting, visit our accessibility page.