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Most people use the internet for everything from leaning a new language to ordering food, but not everyone is able to use the internet in the same way. People with disabilities face a unique set of challenges when navigating the internet, and businesses are legally obliged to accommodate them.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), businesses must accommodate people with disabilities. But are businesses' websites legally considered part of their infrastructure? That question is at the core of a recent court case.
Guillermo Robles attempted to order custom pizzas from Domino's Pizza using their website, but he ran into some issues. Robles, who is blind, uses software called Job Access With Speech (JAWS) to navigate websites, but the Domino's website did not have the information the JAWS software needed to work.
Additionally, the Domino's mobile app contains unlabeled buttons. Because of the website's lack of alt-text and the mobile app's lack of information, he was unable to order the pizza he wanted. According to Robles, his lawyer, and the many other people who have filed similar lawsuits, businesses must make accommodations on their websites and apps just as they have to with their physical stores. Some common website accommodations include:
Many businesses — like Domino's — claim that the ADA's accessibility requirements apply only to physical locations. Businesses, they say, should not be forced to make accommodations to every aspect of their infrastructure if people have access to services via some other provided means, e.g., a blind individual can order a custom pizza over the phone instead of on the website.
Some businesses also claim that making their websites uniformly accessible is difficult to do because the federal government has not released an established set of accessibility requirements, although widely accepted international accessibility standards already exist.
However, courts have ruled that ADA standards must also apply to a business' website and mobile apps if the business also has a physical storefront.
The primary goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act are to prohibit discrimination due to an individual's disabilities and to require entities such as employers and businesses to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.
For some businesses, complying with the ADA is as simple as installing a ramp to the front door of their storefront, but making accommodations is a bit more complicated for businesses with websites and mobile apps.
Whereas a ramp only needs to be installed once, the internet is constantly changing. Because of the constant changes, keeping websites and apps updated can be challenging for businesses.
After Robles filed his lawsuit in 2016, Domino's appealed the Ninth Circuit's decision to move forward with the case. Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to review the case, which means the case will continue to be litigated in the Ninth Circuit.
Because there are so many similar lawsuits, this particular case could have significant results regarding internet accessibility related to the ADA.