Domino’s was recently denied a petition from the Supreme Court that websites are not required to be accessible in response to a lawsuit. Their argument is that they are not required to make their website accessible due to the ambiguity of “public accommodation” in Title III in the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. However, following the guidelines of this act can provide a better user experience.
Understanding Title III Of The ADA
In summary, Title III of the ADA states that privately-owned places of public accommodation are prohibited from discriminating against anybody with disabilities. These entities must make ‘reasonable modifications’ and remove barriers in order to meet minimum standards both on the property and business accommodations to operations when serving individuals with disabilities. Title III also requires businesses to take steps to communicate effectively with individuals with vision, hearing and speech disabilities. This is all regulated and enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice.
There is some interpretation of context that must be made here. The ADA began enforcement in 1990 when the internet was not used very much for conducting business, and websites were not at the top of mind when the act was originally written. Part of the document is specific about construction to remove barriers that prevent the disabled from conducting business, but that is not necessarily limited to its physical sense. Modifying a website can cost a pretty penny but it is comparable to construction on a building, so new development would be a reasonable accommodation. In a sense, the aspect of the Act that is ambiguous is whether a website counts as a public accommodation.
Defining ‘Public Accommodation’
The legal definition of a public accommodation is written with several categories listed. There are several categories, that business-owned websites clearly belong to. The definition is also clear about the definition applying to entities that affect commerce.
Place of Exhibition or Entertainment
A place of exhibition or entertainment applies to businesses including movie or performance theaters, concert halls and stadiums. There are popular online services and websites that service this purpose including Fandango, Netflix and YouTube.
Sales Or Rental Establishment
There is very little ambiguity regarding websites that provide sales or rental services. E-Commerce websites are a well-established business model. This includes businesses like Amazon and eBay customer operations are conducted entirely online and also major retailers that conduct business both in brick-and-mortar stores and online including Target and Walmart. This also includes online meal delivery services such as Domino’s.
Place Of Public Display Or Collection
This definition applies to entities including museums, libraries and art galleries. In the digital world, whether this is really given much thought or not, social media apps such as Instagram and YouTube are publicly displayed collections of all kinds of work and art.
Place of Education
It is reasonable to understand that schools and universities need to make accommodations for the disabled so students can arrive to class on time or have the time they need to take an exam. However there are many ways an individual can be trained, earn certifications and even degrees without ever physically stepping into a classroom. This can range from instructional video websites like LinkedIn Learning to online programs and learning platforms such as Blackboard or Cornerstone used by major universities.
Social Service Center Establishment
The definition refers to entities including senior citizen centers, food banks, adoption agencies and many more. While an individual would not be able to live on a website or physically give food to somebody through a computer, there are still popular ways these establishments conduct operations online. Donations to not-for-profits are conducted online all of the time. GoFundMe.com is a popular example where individuals can request donations for all sorts of causes.
Is Dominos.com A Public Accommodation?
Let’s bring this back to the issue of Domino’s. The lawsuit was filed by a blind man who was unable to order a pizza through their website’s order system. By the definition of public accommodation, it has been established that Domino’s is a privately-owned sales establishment. And this lawsuit is evidence that individuals with at least vision disabilities are unable to take advantage of this service. Web development would be a reasonable way to accommodate this and other disabilities. It is understandable why the Supreme Court denied a hearing for this case.
With over 40 locations in Greater Orlando, there may be a lot of local business Domino’s could be losing by not accommodating for the disabled on their website. Lawsuit or not, there is revenue that a competitor could easily earn by simply providing an easy online experience as WCAG 2.0 compliance does not solely benefit those with disabilities.
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- ADA National Network. “An Overview of the Americans With Disabilities Act.” 2017. Accessed October 8, 2019.
- Legal Information Institute. “42 U.S. Code § 12181.Definitions.” Accessed October 8, 2019.