The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does apply to websites and mobile apps, including those of Domino's, says the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a reversal of the lower court's decision to dismiss a web accessibility case against the pizza company.
In 2017, Robles v. Domino's Pizza, LLC was dismissed on the grounds that allowing the case to proceed would violate the defendant's due process rights, citing the lack of formalized web accessibility regulations from the Department of Justice (DOJ). On January 15, 2019, that decision was reversed and the case, originally filed in the Central District of California in September 2016, will go back to the lower court.
The case alleges the Domino's website and app were not accessible to blind or visually-impaired individuals using screen readers.
Here's what we learned from the advancements in the Domino's accessibility case
The ADA applies to websites and apps
This can't be stated enough, again confirmed: the ADA applies to websites. The confusion for some stems from the fact that the ADA was created before the modern web and hasn't been updated to mention specific rules for web accessibility. The ADA does, however, prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in places of public accommodation. As accessibility lawsuits continue to highlight, these places don't need to be physical locations.
The opinion's summary clarifies why the law applies to Domino's:
"The Act mandates that places of public accommodation, like Domino's, provide auxiliary aids and services to make visual materials available to individuals who are blind. Even though customers primarily accessed the website and app away from Domino's physical restaurants, the panel stated that the ADA applies to the services of a public accommodation, not services in a place of public accommodation. The panel stated that the website and app connected customers to the goods and services of Domino's physical restaurants."
Websites have to be accessible even though the ADA doesn't specify a particular set of standards
The District court granted the dismissal of the case against Domino's because it was argued that the DOJ's failure to prescribe specific standards for what exactly makes a website accessible violated their Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process. In the reversal, however, it was determined that "Domino's has received fair notice that its website and app must comply with the ADA."
The case is not specifically because Domino's didn't comply with WCAG, but WCAG compliance would have prevented and would resolve the issue.
Domino's had initially argued that the plaintiff filed suit because the company's website and app didn't comply with the Web Accessibility Content Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. The reversal clarifies:
"Robles does not seek to impose liability based on Domino's failure to comply with WCAG 2.0. Rather, Robles merely argues—and we agree—that the district court can order compliance with WCAG 2.0 as an equitable remedy if, after discovery, the website and app fail to satisfy the ADA. At this stage, Robles only seeks to impose liability on Domino's for failing to comply with § 12182 of the ADA, not for the failure to comply with a regulation or guideline of which Domino's has not received fair notice."
The DOJ's failure to specify regulations does not excuse Domino's from creating an accessible website and app.
While we wait for the DOJ to possibly revisit prescribing accessibility standards under the ADA, we know that in plaintiff-favored cases WCAG has been determined to provide a sufficient level of accessibility. As the most universally-accepted and well-known standards (and the legal standard under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act), WCAG is certainly the recommendation for protection from accessibility lawsuits — but WCAG is not specific under the ADA.
Even so, in the reversal, the appeals court noted, "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."
HERE TO HELP YOU ACHIEVE ACCESSIBILITY COMPLIANCE
If you've received a demand letter or are interested in learning how to make sure your website or app are accessible and compliant with the ADA, talk to us. Or, if you prefer, get started with a free and confidential website accessibility scan.
We look forward to helping you achieve, maintain, and prove digital compliance.