On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition from Domino’s to hear their appeal after a lower court effectively ruled that their website must be accessible to those with disabilities. Yet while some may see this as a huge win in the fight for mandatory website accessibility and web equality, it still leaves a lot of questions unanswered.
Judicial Decisions in 30 Seconds or It’s Free
Let’s back up a moment, though, and explain how this particular lawsuit started. In 2016 Guillermo Robles, who’s legally blind, sued Domino’s after he was unable to order food from their website or mobile app, despite using screen-reading software. What about calling in his order, you ask? Domino’s made the same argument. Here’s the wrinkle, however: by calling in, Robles was deemed ineligible for online-exclusive deals.
As a result, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided that web inaccessibility “impedes access to the goods and services” and ruled in favor of Robles. And Domino’s unsuccessful appeal of this decision takes us to the present day.
A Trend in ADA Compliance
This lawsuit is just one of many that feature businesses sued due to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) violations. In fact, over 2,250 such suits were filed on the federal level in 2018 alone (nearly triple that of 2017). Yet because there’s no solid precedent when it comes to Title III of the ADA, many were looking to the Supreme Court to make a ruling on Domino’s v. Robles.
This is because Title III refers to public accommodations, commercial facilities and private entities — which Domino’s falls under — but says far less about websites. The web was still getting started when Congress passed the ADA in 1990, so of course there’s a lot that wasn’t spelled out. (Let’s be honest: at that time, everyone thought the internet was going to bring about the end of the world anyway. Y2K, anyone?)
So while the Supreme Court’s deferral to the 9th Circuit was another victory for accessibility, we still have to wait before we get a landmark interpretation of the ADA for the internet age.
A Compliance-First Model
We at Hileman Group are all for ADA-compliant websites, regardless of what the law says, and here’s why. It creates more usable interfaces, provides cleaner builds and can positively impact your bottom line. But we do understand the hesitancy about ADA sites. In fact, here are some common myths we hear a lot:
Myth #1: It costs way more money. If you’re working with a partner who knows what they’re doing, it really should not cost more! And keep in mind, even if it did, it’s way cheaper than legal fees! Domino’s could have updated their site and app already with the amount of money they’ve spent trying to fight this — not to mention the public-relations costs.
Myth #2: It restricts creativity. Websites that are created with compliance in mind tend to be extremely well designed and perform better than their non-compliant counterparts. It all comes down to proper planning and effective communication between developers and designers. There are no rules saying you can’t have a great interactive experience; it just needs to be built properly. All of which can be done.
Myth #3: Web accessibility only benefits individuals with seeing impairments. This is 100% false — but understandable. Most ADA lawsuits tend to be around visual impairments. The guidelines that we follow when creating an ADA-compliant website, however, take all disabilities into consideration — from page time-out rules that could affect those with cognitive disabilities to making sure your videos have subtitles for hearing impairments. This even takes situational disabilities into account (ever broke your dominant hand before?).
Myth #4: Our site was built with compliance in mind — no need to do anything else! Websites are constantly updated — refreshed content, new photos, etc. Every time you touch your website is an opportunity for your site to be thrown out of compliance. Wherever you spend time updating and maintaining your website from a performance and content perspective, you should also put time into your compliance with quarterly audits.
Where does this leave us? With the rise in lawsuits and no updates to the law happening anytime soon, we suggest erring on the side of caution and planning for ADA-compliant websites. For one, even though the Supreme Court chose not to hear this compliance case, another may land on their docket sooner than later; other countries have already started to create legislation around website accessibility. Secondly, we’re looking simply at a new set of best practices for today. Companies have been adapting their web to mobile-first; it’s now time for accessibility-first.
At Hileman Group, we can absolutely help — beginning with an ADA compliance audit to assess where your websites or apps are and how a partner might help to take them into the future. Contact us to start the conversation!