The Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) established a national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Title III of the ADA entitles all individuals to 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.”
In a ruling that could only be surprising to those who have not been following recent trends in the law, the Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeal decided that the ADA also applies to the internet and cyberspace! In 2016, a blind man named Guillermo Robles filed a federal lawsuit against Domino’s Pizza alleging that he was twice unable to order a customized pizza using Domino’s website and mobile app because neither worked with his screen-reading software, which vocalizes visual information on websites. Robles also claimed that he was unable to take advantage of discounts that Domino’s offered only through its website and app. Robles sought monetary damages and a permanent injunction requiring Domino’s to implement Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which are private industry standards that have been adopted by many federal agencies.
The District Court agreed with Robles that the ADA applied to Domino’s website and mobile app but nonetheless dismissed his case, finding that Domino’s due process rights would have been violated since the Department of Justice had not yet issued standards for online accessibility. Robles appealed to the Ninth Circuit.
In affirming the District Court’s conclusion that the ADA applies to a website, the Ninth Circuit noted that a place of public accommodation, like Domino’s, must provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to ensure effective communication with individuals with disabilities. And, those auxiliary aids and services include electronic and information technology, including apps and websites. The Ninth Circuit stated that the inaccessibility of Domino’s website and app impeded access to the goods and services of its physical franchises, which are the places of actual public accommodation.
The Ninth Circuit disagreed with the District Court, however, and held that Domino’s due process rights were not violated because Domino’s has known, since the ADA was enacted, that it must provide full and equal access to all individuals. It also rejected Domino’s argument for specific instruction from the DOJ for website and app accessibility, finding that the Constitution only requires that Domino’s receive fair notice of its legal duties, but not necessarily a precise blueprint for achieving compliance.
The Ninth Circuit’s holding will have broad implications as mobile technology progresses and infiltrates commerce. Mobile apps helping shoppers navigate the aisles of a grocery store, and apps allowing customers to skip the line and order ahead, are all subject to the ADA’s mandate and must ensure that the convenience and services they promise can be enjoyed by all customers. If your business – no matter how big or small — is expanding its reach and developing a website or app, you must integrate the software that provides access to your services to disabled individuals.