This week, the Supreme Court sent a clear message to retailers nationwide: Accessibility isn’t about just physical stores anymore.
On Monday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Domino’s attempt to appeal a 2017 lawsuit the retailer faced for having a website that was inaccessible to the screen-readers used by the blind community. The Supreme Court just dealt a blow that holds that the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, protects access to not only a retailer’s brick-and-mortar presence, but their electronic presence on sites and apps as well.
“Although Domino’s is disappointed that the Supreme Court will not review this case, we look forward to presenting our case at the trial court,” Domino’s wrote in a statement. “We also remain steadfast in our belief in the need for federal standards for everyone to follow in making their websites and mobile apps accessible.”
The announcement results from a 2017 lawsuit from Guillermo Roble, a blind Californian who argued that certain links and images on the Domino’s site weren’t compatible with the text-to-speech software he used to navigate the web. At the time, he argued that the ADA—which guarantees people with a disability “full and equal enjoyment of the goods and services” in any public locale—should expand onto the internet as well.
The Supreme’s Court decision is a move that affects a lot more than just Domino’s. Any major retailer with a web presence will likely need to buckle down as a result of the ruling. Meanwhile, those with proprietary apps—like Best Buy, Home Depot and Target—will need to make sure those are up to snuff, too.
The National Retail Federation—a trade association built up of roughly 18,000 department stores and restaurant chains, among other retailers, wrote in a statement that it was “disappointed” by the Supreme Court’s decision.
“This is an issue that needs the clarity of a Supreme Court ruling,” said the Federation’s general counsel, Stephanie Martz. She cited the burgeoning trend of website accountability cases being filed nationwide, with conflicting rulings abounding.
“Without guidance on what rules should apply, litigation will continue to divert resources from actually making websites accessible,” she said.
The fast-food giant, in its defense, pointed to some of the resources it has directed toward that end—like the development of platforms that can use voice-activated devices and even a voice assistant of its own, Dom, available both on-site and on-app. The company also boasts a “24×7 hotline” that any customers using screen-readers on the site can contact if they’re finding the site difficult to navigate.
In its statement, Domino’s urged the creation of a “nationwide standard” to address the potential tsunami of litigation that might be impending as a result of disabled people—and their lawyers—”exploiting the absence of a standard for their own benefit.”