Belenen (belenen) wrote,

Resolution: Dominos versus the A D A on website accessibility

icon: "voltaic (me, face at a sharp angle staring out of one eye with a slight smile and streaks of rainbow light on my face)"

For most people in the U.S., being able to order food and other necessities online is an important part of modern life, where there is never enough time. But for people with visual, cognitive, and/or motor disabilities this can be almost impossible because many merchants design their sites exclusively for non-disabled users. This is true despite the fact that disabled people are a higher percent of internet users than they are in the general population.

It is obvious to anyone in the U.S. that websites which sell goods or services are as much a place of public accommodation as any brick-and-mortar store, so you might think that this sort of discrimination is illegal. But because the Americans with Disabilities Act was written almost 30 years ago, it does not specify any application to online services. So for many years, companies who wanted to exclude people with disabilities were able to get court cases thrown out for "lack of due process" -- that is, they argued that because the government didn't define how to make websites accessible, companies shouldn't be prosecuted for excluding people with disabilities.

Until fall of 2017, this "due process" argument worked, because the federal government was supposedly in the process of developing guidelines. But then the Department of Justice announced that they would not be creating them after all (official notification from the D O J), which put the responsibility for figuring out accessibility back on the people running websites. ( has lay-person explanations about the meaning and impact of that notice: readable explanation of D O J notification) Considering that the internet is constantly evolving while laws are comparatively static, it makes far more sense this way.

So finally, people with disabilities began winning lawsuits about website accessibility because the "due process" argument no longer worked. In January of this year, a huge victory came about through a federal circuit court, who ruled that Domino's should in fact have to make their site accessible. (The Viscardi Center offers a good summary of that case) The court said that a lack of federal guidelines is no excuse when there are free, public resources on the topic, and no federal guidelines are forthcoming. The World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative has been publishing up-to-date, highly specific guidelines since 1999: this free resource has been available for 20 years.

Since the circuit court decision on Domino's, there have been a slew of class-action lawsuits against industries (like 75 galleries sued in New York, or 38 wineries sued, also in New York), as well as against individual companies. Many of the owners and leaders of these companies have whined about how they should have been given more time (30 years wasn't enough?), or how they just can't afford to make their sites accessible. Shockingly, none have them seem to have have gone out of business after being forced by the courts to remediate their sites.

In an interesting turn, Kroger was sued for an inaccessible website, but they had already been in the process of making a new, accessible site. By the time the case went to court, all of the claimant's issues had been addressed and the case was dismissed as moot. (Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner law explains that case) A company with all of their thousands of products for each of their thousands of locations listed on their website and their app managed to make their online services accessible within a year, proving just how attainable basic accessibility is.

Right now, Domino's is trying to get the Supreme Court to overturn the federal district court's decision. If they manage to get it accepted as worthy of the Supreme Court's time, this would be a resolution to the question of whether or not the A D A applies to online services. I'm hoping that the Supreme Court decides not to entertain it yet, so that we can offer more concrete evidence that the district court's decision was for the good of the public. Alternatively, I hope they do entertain it and agree with the circuit court. I'm going to be holding my breath a little bit until the Domino's case is resolved.
Tags: accessibility, learn-sharing, writing prompts

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