Domino's war on web accessibility

Here’s a topic that rarely gets thought about: web accessibility. The reason is obvious: most people - most businesses - just don’t think about it.

And it seems businesses will do everything in their power to ensure they don’t need to think about. After Guillermo Robles successfully sued the pizza chain because their app and website were not compatible with his screen reader (which, he argued, contravenes the Americans with Disabilities Act ), Domino’s has responded on the front foot, petitioning the Supreme Court to hear the case - the company argues that the ADA guidelines aren’t clear enough for companies to properly and correctly implement in the context of digital products and services.

From the petition:

“Unless this Court steps in now, defendants must retool their websites to comply with Title III without any guidance on what accessibility in the online environment means for individuals with the variety of disabilities covered by the ADA.”

The problem with what Domino’s is doing is articulated very well in a Gizmodo piece: Domino's Could Fuck Up the Internet for People With Disabilities Because They Won't Just Fix Their Website.

I’m sure you can understand the gist from the headline, but it’s nevertheless a point that needs to be made. This case is potentially a landmark in web accessibility - if Domino’s manages to quash it with the help of the Supreme Court, it’s likely that the mission to improve web accessibility will be abruptly halted.

Without going into legal detail, the case really hinges on whether the ADA actually covers digital products. Or, to put it another way - do companies need to think about accessibility when it comes to online life?

While it might well be true that the legislation isn’t explicit, the fact that Domino’s are putting up a real fight highlights that there is a lot at stake here (according to the Daily Caller, it “could cost $3 million per website to meet the web accessibility requirements”). You’d think there are a lot of interested parties looking on - if the Supreme Court upholds the ruling in favour of Robles this could set an important precedent - and one that could be costly for thousands of businesses.

This is a big opportunity for changing how we build the web - it’s clear that businesses are never going to think about accessibility unless they are forced (it’s pretty difficult to get them to even think about security, after all).

If you want to learn more about web accessibility, I recommend you start here.

If you’re interested in what it might mean in more practical terms, this document produced by Google engineers is also a great starting point.

The more people know about it and talk about it, the more likely it is we can start building a better web for everyone.