Supreme Court Denies Petition, Upholding Ruling On Digital Accessibility

Matt Clement

Written by Matt Clement

October 8, 2019

In a big win for disability rights advocates, Domino’s was denied an opportunity to appeal a lower court ruling on digital accessibility for websites, apps, and other platforms. We’ll analyze the original ruling and denial of a petition, give a breakdown on what is now required for digital platforms, and provide some practical answers for brand managers and content writers.

The Original Ruling and Denial Of Petition

The original ruling dates back to 2016 when, Guillermo Robles, a blind man who resides in Los Angeles, California, filed a lawsuit against Domino’s, alleging that he couldn’t use the company’s website or delivery app with screen reader software. This, he claims, did not allow him to order a pizza from the company.

Robles argument stems from Title III of the Americans With Disability Act (ADA), which states that buildings open to the public, such as restaurants, must be accessible to people with disabilities. He, in essence, contends that the restaurant was not truly “open” to people with disabilities because of its inaccessible platforms.

Intriguingly, the law has not been updated in response to the rise of the internet, including consumer use of websites and smartphone apps to buy products and services. Additionally, the U.S. Justice Department has yet to issue any guidance on how the ADA can be applied online, if at all.

Domino’s lawyers argued that the ADA, which was passed in 1990, wasn’t written with online spaces in mind, so it was unclear how the act applied to its platforms. A California federal judge originally dismissed the suit, partly because the Justice Department had not yet released guidance on how websites should comply with Title III. In January 2019, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Domino’s and other retailers must make its online services accessible, upholding a US District Court Decision from 2018. The appeals court sent the suit back down to the lower court, but Domino’s was hoping to challenge that decision in the Supreme Court.

On Monday, the Supreme Court handed down an order announcing it would not take up a petition from Domino’s to appeal the lower-court decision. The decision, as previously mentioned is a massive win for disability rights advocates, who have been arguing that the ADA applies to websites, digital platforms, and other nonphysical spaces.

What It Means For Companies In the United States

To put it succinctly, the Supreme Court’s denial of petition cleared the way for blind people to sue Domino’s and other retailers if their websites, apps and other digital platforms are not accessible. It is possible the justices could agree to take up the issue later if lower courts are divided. But for now, the court’s action strongly suggests that retailers will be required to make their digital assets accessible or face potential legal action.

At a base level, accessibility means a few things need to be incorporated:

Thankfully, website platforms such as WordPress help incorporate such information into the back end of sites. Intriguingly though WordPress does state 100% accessibility is no guarantee. Pulling from their site:

“First, we follow web design standards and best practices. This means when we build new features and new themes, we are building on a good foundation for making our system and your blog accessible. Second, we address specific concerns. As web technologies change and browsers strive to keep up, it is near impossible to achieve 100% accessibility.”

So obviously, its important to tread through the details as site updates are made. WordPress is quick to point out that the content and the themes used can make a marked difference on how accessible your content is.

What About PDF content?

One of the biggest issues in the ruling may be what to do with PDF content, as it fails the accessibility test on many levels. Many companies use this format to display curated content such as magazines, reports, brochures, white papers, e-books, and guides. Unfortunately, visually impaired audiences won’t be able to read this type of content because screen readers can’t audibly extract the text inside a PDF. Additionally, PDFs don’t include alt text or meta tags that help describe visual elements and the document itself.

There are third-party professionals who specialize in validating PDFs according to PDF/UA (ISO 14289-1) standards, but the drawn-out process costs additional time and money. It would seem that switching to accessible web-based documents can help avoid that hassle from the beginning.

A Solution: Accessible Web-Based Documents

There are a few providers of accessible web-based curated platforms, of which Nxtbook Media is one. The vast majority of providers though, including some major companies such as Issuu, are not. It would be advisable to reach out and ask your vendor (if you have one) whether they have an accessible solution.

We have developed the PageRaft platform to deliver content that more equally respects all web users, whether they require additional assistance or not. Choosing a platform like PageRaft can help streamline the process and contain the cost of having to develop customized digital accessibility features.

PageRaft comes with certain built-in features that make interaction with the interface and content more operable and understandable for those using keyboard interactivity and assistive software. Not to mention that the format of PageRaft allows screen readers to read out content clearly and in the proper order.

PageRaft also has a toolset that will allow for additional features for accessibility like alt text for images, descriptions or transcripts of video, descriptive text for hyperlinks, reference links, and more. Here you can find two samples of accessible publications in PageRaft, Campus Express from the University of Pennsylvania and Renew from United Healthcare: Campus Express: University of Pennsylvania, Renew: United Healthcare

Don’t Wait for Digital Accessibility

Whether it increases audience and engagement, saves companies from lawsuits, or is just the morally right thing to do, being digitally accessible is now more important than ever to brands. Any additional cost or time spent on digital accessibility now, could mean savings in the thousands or millions from lawsuits and missed revenue in the future.

Want to chat about digital accessibility and how we can help? Feel free to fill out our Get Started Form. We’d be glad to be of assistance.

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