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November 12, 2019

What does the Domino’s ADA case mean for small-medium-businesses

Yan Yanko VP Marketing
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A recent court ruling found that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to Domino’s websites and apps, and therefore, Dominos must make their online services accessible to people with disabilities. The ruling has potential ramifications for all US businesses that have websites – from large corporations to SMBs.

Background to the Domino’s ADA Case

Domino’s case began in 2016, which makes it a landmark case. It’s one of the first times when a US Court has allowed a web accessibility lawsuit under Title III of the ADA against a public company.

Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination against an individual on the basis of disability in places of “public accommodation”. When the ADA was introduced in 1990, it was understood that public accommodations meant bricks-and-mortar stores (such as pizza joints). But In recent years the courts have expanded the definition to include websites.

In Domino’s case, Guillermo Robles, a blind California resident who uses screen readers to access the internet, tried to place an order on the Domino’s mobile app. The app was incompatible with his screen reader, so Robles sued. After a district court dismissed the case, Robles appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The appeals court did not address whether the Domino’s app and website were ADA-compliant but, importantly, it said

"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,” the court ruled. 

Next, Domino’s appealed to the Supreme Court. In October 2019, the Supreme Court formally declined to hear the case, effectively upholding the ruling that the ADA applies to websites. The case will now go to trial.

Impact of the Domino’s Lawsuit on SMBs

The Domino’s case could (pardon the pun) have a domino effect on millions of US small businesses. Based on a preliminary estimate, more than 2,400 web accessibility lawsuits were filed in federal courts in 2019, almost triple the amount two years earlier. Seyfarth Shaw LLP, the law firm that compiled the data, has speculated the Domino’s ruling could see a bump in cases.

Thomas Barton, a lawyer at Drinker Biddle and Reath LLP, says small businesses that ignore web accessibility will become increasingly vulnerable to lawsuits. Speaking to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Barton said plaintiffs’ firms will first look to settle or sue major retailers and then start targeting smaller companies.

It goes without saying that if a giant corporation like Domino’s can lose a Title III case, SMBs have little hope of winning.

Litigation Hurts the Business, the Brand, and the Wallet

Broadly speaking, there are three ways a company can address web accessibility:

  1. Wait until they receive their first demand letter – then find a solution.
  2. Wait until they get sued – then settle or go to court and, if they lose, find a solution.
  3. Find a solution today and stop worrying.

There’s no way of knowing how much Domino’s has spent defending itself so far. However, given this case has dragged on more than three years, it’s safe to say a solution would have been cheaper. And that’s not to mention the damage to Domino’s public image and the fact that it’s excluding millions of Americans with disabilities from becoming paying customers.

How to Make Your Website Accessible

Most courts, both in the US and the rest of the world, have been referring to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) when judging if a website is accessible.

Under WCAG 2.1 guidelines, web accessibility means having a website that’s:

  • Perceivable, e.g. provides text alternatives for non-text content, provides captions for multimedia, makes it easy for users to see and hear content, and is compatible with assistive technologies like screen readers.
  • Operable, e.g. makes all functionality available from a keyboard, gives users enough time to read and use content, does not cause seizures or physical reactions, helps users navigate and find content, and is accessible without a keyboard.
  • Understandable, e.g. makes text readable and understandable, make content appear in predictable ways, and helps users avoid and correct mistakes.
  • Robust, as incompatible with current and future user tools.

The question every website owner should be asking themselves is: why wait to be sued when it’s so easy to make your site accessible?

There are 4 types of web accessibility solutions:

  • Fully automated web accessibility solutions
  • Manual web accessibility solutions
  • Semi-manual web accessibility solutions
  • Web accessibility plugins

Manual accessibility solutions

Manual accessibility solutions have been around for a long time. Their biggest advantage is also their biggest disadvantage: manual solutions, while able to provide 100% accessibility, are time-consuming (can take several months), expensive (they rely on “working hands”) and they’re only good for remediating existing content. Also, when new content is uploaded to a website, the site owner needs to go through the remediation process all over again, making it a never-ending process. 

Semi-manual accessibility solutions

Semi-manual solutions are usually the ones that are trying to fight for their share of the market by claiming that they have an automated web accessibility solution. They differ from manual solutions as they do offer some automatic remediation, however, they still require manual intervention. This means that such solutions are still time-consuming, expensive, and lose their compatibility edge as soon as new content is uploaded, or updates are made to the website.

Web plugins

Web plugins, such as those found on WordPress, Shopify, and BigCommerce, provide very basic, and mostly cosmetic, accessibility fixes to a website. Although they’re often free, by not fully complying with the WCAG 2.0 level AA standards, they aren’t truly accessible to people with disabilities and leave the website wide open to litigation.

Fully automated web accessibility solution

The ideal solution would combine all three of these options: be as accurate as a manual solution, have automated features to ensure constant compliance, and be at an affordable price rate. accessiBe fits this bill by providing full website remediation in under 48 hours and continuing to rescan the site daily for constant protection, without the need for manual intervention. After just a 5-minute install, website owners can rest assured that they’re fully accessible and compliant, and never have to worry about web accessibility again.

Web Accessibility Post the Domino’s Case

Domino’s case brought web accessibility to the forefront of everyone’s attention. People with disabilities, website owners, and lawyers alike are all waiting for official laws to be passed on the subject; until then, the lawsuits will keep on coming.

What is certain is that all website owners need to take web accessibility seriously today, and find a solution that protects them as quickly as possible. If they don’t, they will become a sitting duck in a sea of litigation. This, we know for sure. 

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