On January 15, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that Domino’s Pizza’s website and mobile app were in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act as they were not fully accessible to persons who are blind or visually impaired.
In accordance with the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, Domino’s must make its online platforms accessible to blind and visually impaired people using screen reader software. The Court concluded that the ADA put places of public accommodation on “fair notice” of their obligation to provide accessible websites and apps, at least when these websites and apps are used in conjunction with a physical location
The case began in September 2016 when Guillermo Robles, who is blind, filed a federal lawsuit against Domino’s, claiming the company’s online platform did not permit the use of screen-reading software, ultimately restricting and limiting his access. Robles claimed Domino’s violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and should make its online presence compatible with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
WCAG is developed through the W3C process in cooperation with individuals and organizations around the world, with a goal of providing a single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments internationally. The WCAG documents explain how to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities.
While WCAG 2.0 has been adopted as a legal standard under some federal laws, including Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, as well as the Air Carrier Access Act, it has not been formally adopted into regulations under the ADA.
The Ninth Circuit’s three-judge panel, which consisted of U.S. Circuit Judges John B. Owens and Paul J. Watford and U.S. District Judge Jennifer G. Zipps, unanimously ruled that the company’s website and mobile app are critical utilization platforms for the public to order online and locate Domino’s restaurants. The panel also suggested that lower courts could reference WCAG 2.0 guidelines when structuring remedies.
“The alleged inaccessibility of Domino’s website and app impedes access to the goods and services of its physical pizza franchises – which are places of public accommodation,” Judge Owens wrote for the panel.
According to the panel, companies have known since the Americans with Disabilities Act became law in 1990 that they must provide full and equal access to people with disabilities. In addition, regulations from the Department of Justice (DOJ) have been clear since 1996 that such protection extends to websites.
“While we understand why Domino’s wants DOJ to issue specific guidelines for website and app accessibility, the Constitution only requires that Domino’s receive fair notice of its legal duties, not a blueprint for compliance with its statutory obligations,” Owens wrote in the opinion.
The case has been sent back to the district court for a ruling on whether the Domino’s website and app comply with the ADA mandate to “provide the blind with effective communication and full and equal enjoyment of its products and services.”