Robles versus Domino’s Pizza was a hard-fought Americans with Disabilities Act case, which made law with respect to the responsibility of certain business owners to keep their websites and apps accessible to the blind and visually impaired. The plaintiff in the case, Guillermo Robles, filed a lawsuit alleging that Domino’s Pizza failed to design, construct, maintain, and operate its websites and mobile application in a way that was fully accessible to him. His case was dismissed, and he appealed. The appellate court reversed the decision to dismiss, and it reinstated his case.
The facts of the case were as follows: Domino’s operates a website and mobile app that allows customers to order pizza, either for pickup, or for delivery to their homes. It also allows customers to receive various discounts. Mr. Robles (the plaintiff) used special software that vocalized features on websites, in order to allow him access to those websites, notwithstanding his visual impairments.
Mr. Robles filed his ADA lawsuit in September 2016, alleging that Domino’s failed to design, construct, and maintain its website in a way that was fully accessible and usable by him, and by other visually impaired persons, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as well as California law. Domino’s moved to dismiss, arguing that the Americans with Disabilities Act does not cover its website, or in the alternative, that it would violate due process to subject Domino's to specific website accessibility standards, since there was no law or regulation requiring that any specific standards be applied to websites.
The lower court (the court that dismissed the case) held that Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act did apply to Domino’s website and app. But it also ruled that because there was not yet any rule or regulation announced regarding the standards to which websites must conform, requiring Domino's to conform to a specific standard would violate due process (since it had no prior notice of the legally required standard).
In reversing that decision, the appellate court held that the ADA “as a whole” is intended to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities.“ Title III of the ADA advances that goal by providing that “no individuals shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation, by any person who owns, leases or leases to, or operates a place of public accommodation.”
As such, the appellate court agreed that the Domino’s website was subject to the ADA. And the ADA, of course, requires that places of public accommodation, like the Domino’s website, take appropriate action to eliminate barriers to access, and ensure effective communication with individuals who have disabilities.
The appellate court found that the ADA articulates specific standards, to which places of public accommodation must conform. Such places must ensure that no individual with a disability is excluded or denied access on the basis of that disability. They must ensure that there is effective communication with people who have disabilities. The lack of specific regulations stating that a particular technology must be used on websites is not a relevant factor for consideration. Indeed, because Domino’s knows has an obligation to allow for effective communication on its website (or apps) – including with the visually impaired public – it has to provide some method of doing that. Just because a specific method is not set out in the law, that does not mean the obligation does not exist at all.
Put more specifically, the appellate court states that “while we understand why Domino’s wants DOJ to issue specific guidelines for website and app accessibility, the Constitution only requires that dominoes receive fair notice if it’s legal duties, not a blueprint for compliance with statutory obligations.”
In other words, although it would be nice for there to be a specific rule or regulation stating how websites are required to comply with the ADA, in the absence of such rules or regulations, places of public accommodation whose websites are subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act are not simply excused from compliance.
The appellate court went on to rule as follows: “we express no opinion about whether Domino's website or app comply with the ADA. We leave it to the District Court, after discovery, to decide in the first instance whether the Domino’s website and app provide the blind with effective communication and full and equal enjoyment of its products and services, as the ADA mandates.” In other words, it is up to each website and app owner to make sure that its website is ADA compliant, and there is no specific guidance on how to do that.
Although WCAG 2.1 standards have become the default accepted way in which for websites and apps to be accessible, there is no definite way to comply. The bottom line for business owners is that websites and apps that are used to sell goods and services must be ADA compliant, or otherwise a lawsuit to enforce compliance is the likely result.