As we await a Supreme Court decision that will determine whether the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to websites as well as to physical locations, it’s worth revisiting why accessibility of online content is so critically important for people with disabilities.
There’s an excellent article in Slate about the case before SCOTUS, Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC, and its implications for people with disabilities. A California man, who is blind, alleges that he was unable to order a pizza from Domino’s because neither the Domino’s Pizza website nor their mobile application are accessible via screen readers. Visually impaired people rely on screen reading software to navigate the web and applications on phones and other devices.
Basically, Domino’s is arguing that while they have no desire to discriminate against potential customers, the accommodations for accessibility required by the ADA do not apply to websites, only to physical “places.” An appellate court ruled that Domino’s is required to make their website accessible. A decision is expected any time now by the Supreme Court that will settle the matter – and it’s not just about satisfying a late-night pizza craving. The consequences for people with disabilities are far-reaching. That’s why so many disability rights advocates are paying close attention to how SCOTUS comes down on this case.
The internet was still very new when the ADA became law in 1990, so websites aren’t specifically addressed in the legislation. However, the U.S. Department of Justice has long held that the language in the ADA is broad enough to cover websites for business. Title II of the ADA “prohibits disability-based discrimination on the part of state and local governments”; and Title III “prohibits disability-based discrimination for ‘places of public accommodations’”. These include private businesses such as restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, museums, and doctor’s offices.
Think about how much of our daily business is now done online. We shop, work, register for school, pick up tickets to the latest Hollywood blockbuster, renew car registrations, make doctor appointments, conduct our personal banking and pay our bills online. All of us depend on accessible and navigable websites and apps to conduct not only commerce, but increasingly, activities of daily life. And for people who are blind, the ability to use screen-reading software is essential.
Screen-reading software isn’t the only technical consideration when making a website accessible. The commonly accepted technical standard for accessibility of websites is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. These guidelines define how to make online content more accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities. Some of these guidelines include providing text alternatives for non-text content; making content easy to read, understand and navigate; and ensuring that content is not designed in a way that might cause seizures. People with disabilities depend on these accommodations to be able to fully participate in a modern world in which more and more of our essential functions are performed online.
Kerri Michael is the Communications and Outreach Manager at DRA.