It doesn’t get clearer than this: It’s time for a change in business attitudes when it comes to creating web sites that are accessible to all. If you’ve been watching the Domino’s case make its way through the courts, you know this about more than pies. According to the Pew Internet Project, survey conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, Jan. 2011, 54% of adults living with a disability go online.
This was definitely a David and Goliath story. The pizza giant being Goliath and David being a blind man, Guillermo Robles, who sued the Domino’s chain citing that, even using screen-reader software, he was unable to order a meal via the company’s website and mobile app. The customer won the case in The Ninth Circuit, but Domino’s appealed, taking it to the Supreme Court. Today, the Supreme Court denied the case. The original ruling, that the company must make its website and mobile app accessible under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, remains.
Dominos may be first to be held up as an example, but the decision impacts pretty much any organization that does business at a physical location as well as on an app. Robles lawyers argued that The Americans with Disabilities Act requires businesses with physical locations to make their websites and other online platforms accessible to those with disabilities. Businesses, reticent to make change to their existing platforms, argued that the ADA laws do not pertain to online platforms created after 1990.
“This is not about if we make our products and services available and accessible. This is about when. This is not about a vision impaired consumer, it is about all consumers,” said Caroline Casey, founder of The Valuable 500. “It is simply ludicrous that any organization in 2019 would invest or pay out to keep customers away.”
Those who think that the ADA does not pertain to them can argue that the laws are unclear and were created before anyone ever thought they’d use anything but a landline to order their pies. But restaurant associations went farther than that. A recent opinion piece in the National Restaurant News urges restauranteurs ‘not to roll over yet.” The piece cites several other similar cases that ‘offer some hope’ that ‘the tide may be turning’ in favor of businesses. It offers advice on how to manage suits, including retaining a lawyer, hiring an accessibility consultant, posting information about accessibility on your website and buying an insurance policy that covers third party claims.
Why would Domino’s spend a great deal of money to fight to remain inaccessible when it’s literally not good for business? The disability community is 1 billion strong. That’s a lot of money to leave on the table. If sentiment turns against Domino’s in the disability community, they stand to lose money. If Domino’s abides and decides to overhaul their website, they would likely be able to gain favor among millions of pizza eaters. According to Accessibility Statistics, 57 million US citizens have a disability that hinders their ability to access content online. “It is shortsighted to the extreme to think that accessibility is a burden or only about the global $8 trillion market represented by disabilities. We are all living in a digital age. The opportunity to embrace it quickly will lead to business growth. And the risk to fighting it can be detrimental,” added Casey.
Yet, they aren’t the only business fighting to remain inaccessible. It is common in many service businesses to fear the change to accessibility. Why is accommodation seen as such a burden? It’s unclear. In my writing about higher education and travel in particular this year, business owners have told me off the record that they simply can’t afford to change. Or that when they do make changes, people with disabilities still seem to be unsatisfied—they’ll write or call to say they found something amiss. Really? It strikes me a silly that someone in the service business would want to dismiss the concern of a customer, no matter how irksome they found the complaint. It’s true, these suits have skyrocketed in the past year for several reasons: some hastily drawn together drive-by lawsuits that seek to take advantage of unaware small business owners and use people with disabilities as a pawn for money. But again: You are in the service and hospitality business. Customer service should be your number one priority. Where is your common sense?
The ADA is law, and it will be celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2020. The choice to fight is yours. You can make the law complicated, you can also change as times have to meet your customers where they are—online and on apps. As the number of people with disabilities, including low-vision and mobility at the top of the list, grows yearly arguing the ADA law will prove even more costly. I have written about this for Forbes, here. There is also an informative piece on the business case for accessibility, here. It is published by W3C, the web accessibility initiative (WAI). They do an excellent job of making the four pillars or reasons for change. Doing so will drive innovation, accelerate your diversity and inclusion initiatives, expand your market research and minimize your legal risk. In the WAI piece, they note, web accessibility and websites throughout their content include web and mobile applications and other digital technologies. In case that is not enough, there are now several large studies that show that diversity and inclusion are one of the common practices of high-performing businesses. Read The Case For Getting to Equal by Accenture, here. And finally, if a business simply refuses to see the side of the 1 billion people with disabilities, maybe they can be won over by the idea that accessible design is helpful for everyone. It creates a better experience for people without disabilities. In other words, it enables you to capture far more than a slice of the pie.
But the Domino’s case isn’t over yet. What happens next? According to a brief statement from Disability:IN on their website, “Despite the importance of today’s United States Supreme Court announcement, the Domino’s case is not over….the blind plaintiff in the Domino’s has not won yet. Now that it is decided the case can stay in court, it goes back to the Federal District Court in California for further proceedings… Domino’s could have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by removing barriers on its website and settling the case.” You find resources pertaining to the business suit on the Disability:IN website’s legal pages. If you are getting the feeling that you may need some web accessibility expertise or training, or realizing that it’s due time not to think of people with disabilities as a nuisance, another great resource is Accessibility Training for Developers, Testers, and Content Creators.