Websites Must be Accessible to the Blind, Says US Ninth Circuit: Robels v. Domino’s Pizza
The US Ninth Circuit recently issued its opinion in Robels v. Domino’s Pizza, Case No. 17-55504 (US 9th Cir. January 15, 2019), holding that websites and mobile phone apps must be accessible to the blind. In that case, the plaintiff Guillermo Robels, a blind man, sued Domino’s Pizza under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act. See, 42 U.S.C. § 12101; and Cal. Civil Code, § 51 et seq. In 2016, Robles accesses the internet using screen-reading software. The software allows the blind and visually impaired to use the internet. The software must be built into a website and, essentially, the program vocalizes verbal information contained on the website. As many know, Domino’s Pizza operates stores that sell pizzas and other food and also operates a website (along with a mobile app) that allows customers to order pizzas for delivery or in-store pickup. Various exclusive discounts are available through the website.
Back in 2016, on a couple of different occasions, Robles tried to order online a customized pizza from a nearby Domino’s. In his lawsuit, Robles contended that he could not order the pizza because Domino’s failed to design its website and app so his software could read them. In September 2016, Robles filed in federal court in San Francisco claiming that the Domino’s website and app violated his rights under the ADA and the California Act. He sought statutory damages and injunctive relief.
In 2016, the law with respect to the ADA and websites was in flux. There were uncertain questions about whether the ADA applied only to physical locations, such as the actual Domino’s stores. The ADA expressly prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities in places of “public accommodation.” Of course, a website is not a place of public accommodation since it is not a physical location. A large number of cases have now been decided and the Robels case clarifies the what has now become “settled law.” The Robels court held that the ADA does not apply only to a physical location, but also applies to the services that provide assistance related to a physical place of public accommodation. According to the court, this flows logically from the language of the ADA which states, in part, that “[n]o individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities …” The phrasing “full and equal enjoyment” applies to services that facilitate access to stores and other public places.
What You Need to Know
In simple terms, if your business has physical stores or offices and if your business has a website that facilitates access to your physical locations, then your website must be ADA-compliant. In deciding the Robels case, the Ninth Circuit clarified that a physical store or location is required for the ADA to be applicable. That is, if your business is only online or conducted in a non-physical manner, like providing a streaming service, then the ADA does not apply since there is no “nexus” to a physical location.
If your business does not already have written policies in place with respect to website accessibility, you need to put them in place. An experienced San Diego corporate attorney can provide advice and assistance. It is time to make your website accessible and ADA compliant, even if you are a small business.
Contact San Diego Corporate Law
For more information, contact attorney Michael Leonard, Esq., of San Diego Corporate Law. Mr. Leonard was recently named as “Best of the Bar” by the San Diego Business Journal for 2018. Mr. Leonard has received that honor for the past four years. Mr. Leonard can be reached at (858) 483-9200 or via email. Like us on Facebook.