Who reading this blog has ever ordered a pizza online? It’s a simple task, right? You go onto the pizza place’s website, you put in your order and the delivery person shows up at your door within an hour. Sounds easy, and it’s something we all take for granted. Now imagine trying to order a pizza online if you are visually impaired. That’s exactly the problem Guillermo Robles of Los Angeles faced ordering food online from Domino’s Pizza, because the website did not have the software needed for visually impaired people to hear the information audially. Consequently, Robles filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming his rights were violated under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) since he couldn’t access Domino’s website. Obviously, this isn’t a problem unique to Robles. According to the National Institute of Health, the estimated number of legally blind people in the United States is around a million. In addition, about three hundred and fifty thousand seniors in our country are blind.
According to the ADA, “No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any private entity who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.” In court, Robles argued that the ADA applies to websites and physical locations, while Domino’s asserted the ADA only governs physical locations.
Furthermore, Domino’s contends the ADA does not apply to the internet because the federal government has failed to issue guidance on how to make websites accessible for the disabled community. In addition, the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business in a brief supporting Domino’s, argued that Robles wasn’t discriminated against because he had access to a telephone. In contrast, Robles contends that ordering online allows customers to view a more expansive menu, avoid background noise and phone delays. Also, according to Robles, Domino’s pizza only displayed a telephone number readable by screen-reading software after he brought litigation.
During litigation, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the ADA applies to Domino’s website because the internet connects customers with the bricks and mortar of the restaurant. While Domino’s petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case, the request was recently denied. With other federal courts around the country having ruled on similar litigation, it seems like only a matter of time before the Supreme Court will have to weigh in.
In 1991, when the ADA was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, lawmakers clearly had no way of knowing how intertwined commerce would be with the internet. However, that doesn’t mean the ADA doesn’t apply to the web. The lawsuit brought by Robles isn’t just about pizza; it goes directly to how visually impaired people are able to participate in the 2019 economy. Joe Manning, the attorney for Mr. Robles, said, “The blind and visually impaired must have access to websites and apps to fully and equally participate in modern society - something nobody disputes.”
Leaving the law aside, I think that Christopher Danielsen from the National Federation of the Blind said it best. “There is a ton of space for innovation in this area…Rather than refusing to take the money of those of us with disabilities, why not innovate and take our money?”
Regardless of whether the Supreme Court ultimately decides to hear a case like this, wouldn’t it be nice if businesses in a 21st century economy took a proactive approach to make their website as accessible as possible to all people?
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Assistant Director for Aging Policy at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services. He holds a B.A. from American University in political science and a J.D. from New York Law School. Prior to joining B’nai B’rith International he worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence for the Obama White House, practiced as an attorney at Covington and Burling, LLP, worked as an aide for New York City Council Member Tony Avella and interned for Congressman Gary Ackerman’s office. Click here to read more from Evan Carmen.
Sacred texts, prayer books, centuries old archival documents and even a defunct electric bill have provided the inspiration for theater, film and museum exhibits in 2019, a veritable collective celebration of the written and printed word. While many examples might be added to this compendium, here are just a few highlights of innovative artworks, all of which take a fresh approach to the way Jewish culture and social life has impacted history and civilization.
Long-deceased members of a prominent Jewish family come to life onstage in Angela J. Davis’ award-winning new play, “The Spanish Prayer Book,” which premiered in September in California by North Hollywood’s Road Theatre. The time-traveling contemporary drama focuses on a cache of long-hidden religious manuscripts and deals with topics including the changing narrative of Jewish-Muslim relations through the centuries, the commodification of the spiritual—in this case, a collection of valuable prayer books—and our obligation to preserve and protect that which is most precious.
Lilach Dekel-Avneri, a participant in the Washington, D.C.-based Israel Institute Visiting Artist Program, gave an improvisatory, free-form take to her direction of Maya Arad Yasur’s “Amsterdam,” whose script encompasses both the Holocaust and today’s immigration issues, all catalyzed by an unpaid electric bill, mailed to its recipient in 1944 and discovered by the work’s protagonist, a violinist based in the Dutch city of the title. It premiered on Oct. 10 with a three-person cast of students from the University of Southern California’s School of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles, where Dekel-Avneri was based this fall. The director, who characterizes the work as a theater piece, rather than a work with a linear narrative, has noted that “It has no hesitation in combining storytelling, using personal facts about the artist, with the aid of imaginary images, and soundscape, in order to enable us to rise anarchistic and funny performative energies from the pseudo-documentary text.”
The Cairo Geniza—inscribed whole and fragmented pages and artifacts whose content, meaning and function include everything from account ledgers and religious tracts to love letters and music scores, never discarded, but preserved for hundreds of years in the storeroom (geniza) of an Egyptian synagogue and now dispersed among 70 institutions worldwide—takes center stage in “From Cairo to the Cloud,” Michelle Paymar’s award-winning documentary which has been screened at numerous Jewish film festivals this year. Translated into multiple languages and reconstituted as one linear entity through the “miracle” of the internet, the collection opens new insights into a myriad of topics, including the ways that Jews, Muslims and Christians interacted in the region. Those who see the film will be impressed by its superb cinematography, underscoring the stunning visual beauty of the documents. It’s now being shown at film festivals in Europe.
And finally, Washington’s Museum of the Bible, an institution which has hosted some terrific displays of rare Jewish books from Holland and elsewhere, unveiled on Nov. 7 the Washington Pentateuch, a torah dating to the 10th century and described as one of the oldest, intact Hebrew bible manuscripts in the United States. In addition to the torah itself, the exhibition features an introduction by Harvard professor David Stern and images of seven other Hebrew Bible manuscripts, with explanations of how they impact modern editions and translations.
Cheryl Kempler is an art and music specialist who works in the B'nai B'rith International Curatorial Office and writes about history and Jewish culture for B’nai B’rith Magazine. To view some of her additional content, click here.
More than 100 countries are celebrating that the U.N. General Assembly voted for dictatorships to become members of the Human Rights Council (HRC) in the next two years. Democracies have been defeated again, and from now on, Venezuela, Mauritania and Sudan will join more dictatorships in the shameful HRC. All three countries are serial violators of human rights. Slavery is still alive in Mauritania. Sudan is experiencing a reign of terror. Both will judge human rights.
Though outrageous, it is unsurprising that Venezuela has secured a seat in the HRC. It will be an excellent shelter for Maduro to hide the ongoing violation of all human rights in Venezuela. Venezuela got its seat through lobbying by Russia and Cuba and the global support of the Non-Aligned countries - a very peculiar name these days, when at the end of the day they are only aligned to dictators.
Less than a month ago, the high commissioner for human rights, former Chilean President Michele Bachelet, denounced more than seven thousand killings in Venezuela and an ongoing violation of human rights against civilians. It looks like a contradiction that a month later, Venezuela is seated in the HRC.
Well, it is not. Hypocrisy usually is associated with these political movements. The high commissioner told the truth: Venezuela is a dictatorship that violates human rights. On the other hand, seats in U.N. agencies are the result of negotiations and bargaining. And Venezuela will be a safe vote for those powers that backed its seating in the HRC.
The high commissioner has asked for an investigation on the ground in Venezuela into killings, illegal imprisonments and hunger. Maduro insulted Mrs. Bachelet by not accepting any U.N. mission and now, a month after the request, he has received total impunity with Venezuela’s membership in the HRC.
The political alliances made by Venezuela in the last 20 years with Iran, Russia and the Arab League have brought these results: Venezuela is a dictatorship and there is no international system able to stop it. Venezuela’s alliances create a clear and present danger across Latin America; Hezbollah has free access to everywhere in the region that allows entry to Venezuelan passports. Argentina and Paraguay have established that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, but no other country has yet dared to follow them. And when we watch hesitation from the vast majority of Latin American countries to condemn terrorism clearly, the danger becomes greater.
Social unrest is advancing these days in several South American countries. Chile is experiencing ongoing protests with thousands of people rallying in the streets. There has been destruction of public buildings and the Santiago metro. The unrest is not being calmed down either by the government or by the other political parties, and the future is uncertain. Bolivia has had elections, but the opposition does not accept the results and there is violence in the streets. Venezuela always supports unrest in other Latin American countries. Its government has publicly celebrated violence in the streets, no matter which country is going through that violence.
Each country has its own problems, and there is no doubt that many Latin American countries have a lot of unrest. The Venezuelan dictatorship always claims that it will not accept interference and that Venezuela will solve its problems. But Maduro and his ministers want to intervene in other countries. If any country and its government are weak enough to succumb to any sort of intervention, Iranian influence and the threat Hezbollah poses will spread more and more.
Latin American countries will be able to keep democracy in the countries where there are still serious democracies if the international community reacts and stops forgetting what is happening on a continent of 600 million people. If indifference prevails, as is happening now, regimes like the Venezuelan or Cuban governments will be replicated. And if this happens, it will be too late to go back.
Eduardo Kohn, Ph.D., has been the B’nai B’rith executive vice president in Uruguay since 1981 and the B’nai B’rith International Director of Latin American Affairs since 1984. Before joining B'nai B'rith, he worked for the Israeli embassy in Uruguay, the Israel-Uruguay Chamber of Commerce and Hebrew College in Montevideo. He is a published author of “Zionism, 100 years of Theodor Herzl,” and writes op-eds for publications throughout Latin America. He graduated from the State University of Uruguay with a doctorate in diplomacy and international affairs. To view some of his additional content, click here.
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