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 Legislative 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.
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