The Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Domino’s Pizza to consider whether its website must be accessible to customers with disabilities. This opens the doors for similar legal action against other places of accommodation, like retailers and restaurants. How do you make sure your business isn’t one of them?
On October 7th, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition from Domino’s Pizza after a federal appellate court ruled that a blind plaintiff was allowed to sue a retailer for not making its website and mobile app accessible to people with disabilities.
This ruling is significant not just for Domino’s, who must now defend against these claims, but for business owners across the country. The case is one of the first to test how companies need to accommodate disabilities not just in physical spaces, such as with wheelchair ramps and button-operated doors, but in the digital realm as well.
Here’s what companies need to know about the case, the importance of an accessible online presence, and how you can make sure your brand is compliant.
Robles vs. Domino’s Pizza
The plaintiff Guillermo Robles, who is visually impaired, filed a lawsuit against the pizza chain in September 2016 after he was unable to use its website or app using screen-reading software, which vocalizes visual information on websites. Robles argued that this inaccessibility violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life—including public and private places that are open to the general public.
Domino’s pushed back and argued that the ADA, which was written into law in 1990, predated the modern internet and thus has no firm rules that businesses could comply with to make sure their online presence was accessible to all Americans.
In an informal ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reasoned that since Domino’s is a place of public accommodation, it’s legally required to “provide auxiliary aids and services to make visual materials available to individuals who are blind.”
“We look forward to presenting our case at the trial court,” Domino’s told reporters 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 need for federal standards was also cited by the Chamber of Commerce, according to an article in the L.A. Times. The Chamber, along with other business groups, worried that an appeal rejection from the Supreme Court would open up the floodgates to a “tsunami of litigation” against businesses whose websites weren’t deemed accessible to all.
What does an accessible website look like?
In a previous article, we dove into the topic of web accessibility. While often associated with disabilities (including auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and visual impairments), it also applies to individuals without disabilities who otherwise require special accommodations. Think someone who doesn’t have access to audio equipment, or a parent who needs to simultaneously carry their child and type on their phone.
Accessibility is about building websites that recognize these limitations and prevent them from compromising people’s experience or even being a barrier to entry. In a nutshell, the content presented through websites and mobile apps should be perceivable, navigable, and understandable to all.
According to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a set of recommendations intended to act as a single shared standard for web accessibility, there are four principles of accessibility: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust.
The Department of Justice has held that an ADA compliant website must meet the WCAG Level AA criteria. We dove into these principles within our last accessibility blog:
“Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.”
This principle requires that all content on your website be viewable in multiple forms. From images to text, a website visitor should be able to understand all elements of your page regardless of disability. There are four recommended guidelines to follow:
- Text alternatives for non-text content: Any non-text content should have a text alternative so it can be changed into forms that your user needs, such as speech, large print, symbols, braille, or simpler language. For example, images should have alt-text that describe the visual for those who are using screen readers. As a plus, search engines love alt tags, which means that your website is more understandable to Google and thus more likely to rank higher.
- Captions and other alternatives for multimedia: Do you have audio-only or video-only media on your page? Include captions for those who want to play a video with the sound turned off or are otherwise unable to hear it. Transcripts are another option for brands who might not want to add captions to this content.
- Create adaptable content: Consider what your website would look like with styling like CSS removed. Does the information still flow easily and make sense to the reader? This makes it easier for screen reader software, and even search engines, to understand the content structure on your page.
- Allow users to see and hear content: Your website should not rely on color alone as a visual way of conveying information. For example, hyperlinks in a paragraph of text should have an underline or other visual indicator in addition to being a separate color from the rest of the text.
“User interface components and navigation must be operable.”
Though many rely on the use of a mouse to navigate website and perform other computer functions, did you know that it’s possible to go throughout your entire day without using it at all?
The “operable” guideline requires that users be able to navigate all components of your website even without certain equipment or capabilities.
- Keyboard-only functionality: Users should be able to navigate your website with only the use of a keyboard. An operable website allows visitors to use the Tab key to progress throughout the elements on the page and use the Enter key to “click” on components like links and buttons.
- Provide enough time to read and use content: Elements such as slideshows on websites can be difficult to interact with if they rely on timing. Instead, give users the ability to pause or navigate through slides on their own.
- Avoid content that causes seizures: This is a firm rule for WCAG 2.1. Web pages should not contain any elements that flash more than three times within a one-second period. This strobe effect can be dangerous for users with epilepsy or a similar condition that causes seizures.
- Simplify page navigation: Any well-designed website should be easy for a user to navigate and find content. This can include using clear page titles, a well-structured header hierarchy, and descriptive link text.
“Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.”
The content on your website should be readable, predictable, and provide some assistance when user input is required. This means that each individual page should have a clear purpose and goal.
- Use text that’s readable and understandable: Is your website in English? That should be clear to users, search engines, and software. If including technical content or industry jargon, clarify it further for website visitors that might not be familiar with the terminology.
- Content should be predictable: As mentioned before, all individual pages on your website should have a clear focus that doesn’t change based on user interaction. A common example is the navigation capabilities of your website. Elements like the search bar should look the same and remain on the same spot on every page.
- Make errors clear: If a user makes a mistake on your website, they should be able to figure it out right away. For example, if a user skips a required field when filling out an online form, they’ll receive an error message in red that explains the mistake.
“Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.”
Think back to the visually-impaired plaintiff in the Robles vs. Domino’s Pizza case that was unable to use his screen reading software to navigate the pizza chain’s website. This “robust” guideline requires that your website content be easily interpreted by this type of assistive technology. To achieve this, a web developer must write proper semantic markup and provide appropriate names and labels to interface components such as buttons and form fields.
Now, let’s see how that plays out in real life.
Orlando Sanford International Airport
ADA compliance was a major consideration for our team throughout UX design and development for Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB) and their new website. This focus allows passengers of all abilities to enjoy an optimal digital experience as they easily navigate the airport.
When building SFB’s website, we ensured that every interactive element of the site is functional with keyboard-only use.
Our development team created readable font sizes and proper visual contrast for airport guests that have visual impairments.
For passengers that use screen-reading software, our team used semantic, accessible markups that allow airport guests to navigate SFB’s website with ease.
By focusing on ADA compliance from the beginning, SFB is now protected against future website accessibility litigation. (Psst – If you’re curious about the entire brand solution that we created for SFB, check out our work showcase here.)
Why build an ADA compliant website?
The truth is, web accessibility isn’t just a good business practice—it’s also the right thing to do. While it requires additional thought and effort during the development process, it also shows customers that you want them to easily be able to interact with you across all channels. You will notice improved bounce rates and a greater audience reach by opening up your website to all who are interested in learning more about you. And not only will your end users be able to easily navigate all available content, but you will also free yourself from potential litigation down the road.
We Can Help
As a brand, you want to let customers know that you care about their needs. Don’t wait until you’re facing legal action to bring your online presence up to par. Contact us today for a web audit to determine if your company’s website is ADA compliant.