The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal from Domino’s fighting a ruling that a blind customer could sue the chain for violation of the American Disabilities Act (ADA) after he couldn’t use the Domino’s website to order a pizza. The ruling comes at a time when the restaurant experience is more digital than ever thanks to the growing popularity of things like mobile ordering, delivery, and ghost kitchens. It will also likely trigger more action on the part of restaurant chains to make their digital properties accessible to those with disabilities.
For a quick backstory, in July, Domino’s petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of California resident Guillermo Robles, a blind customer who filed the lawsuit after two failed attempts to order a customized pizza from the Domino’s website and app. Robles argued that protections under the ADA apply to online properties as well as brick-and-mortar ones. Domino’s refuted the point, stating that the ADA regulations were written long before digital restaurant ordering existed and that the government hasn’t yet issued rules on how businesses should make their websites ADA compliant.
The puzzling element of this case has always been that Domino’s is a massive entity with ample resources to put towards improving the way its website and app functions for the disabled. That Domino’s prides itself on being more a tech company these days than a pizza chain makes the case even more of a head scratcher. You would think a company that wants to be known for its technology-forward approach to business would be falling over itself to set the standard for ADA-compliant digital properties.
But the opposite seems to be true. Domino’s has instead argued that the recent “tsunami of website accessibility litigation” by plaintiffs is “exploiting the absence of a standard for their own benefit” and that federal standards need to be put in place.
While it’s true that digital properties present more challenges when it comes to staying ADA compliant, Domino’s argument overall has been weak from the start. Rather than use the case as an opportunity to help create clearer regulations and become known as a champion of more ethical tech, the chain has instead chosen to spend millions of dollars fighting a ruling it will in all likelihood still have to comply with.
At the same time, though, more than 5 billion people own mobile devices, at least half of which are smartphones, the restaurant experience is only getting more reliant on digital properties. Add to that the rising popularity of delivery-only ghost kitchens, which wouldn’t exist without digital devices, and it’s easy to see why the issue of restaurants making their properties ADA compliant is so urgent now.
While a large number of restaurant websites are still not designed for ADA compliance, this week’s ruling should certainly motivate other chains to provide an acceptable level of service via digital properties to those with visual, auditory, and cognitive disabilities. If Domino’s is smart, it will start using some of its innovation muscle to be part of the solution, rather than continuing to paint itself as the villain of the story.