Website accessibility in the spotlight
On 7 October, the US Supreme Court denied an appeal by Domino’s Pizza and ruled in favour of a blind claimant who had sued the chain when he was unable to order pizza off its website and mobile app in the US.
The Supreme Court’s decision upheld the judgment of the Ninth Circuit’s Court of Appeals in finding that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies not only to businesses with physical locations, but their online storefronts and mobile apps also. The claimant had attempted to use JAWS (“Job Access With Speech”) screen-reading software for the visually impaired, however, this was not available on Domino’s website at the time he used it. Similarly, the unlabelled buttons on the Domino’s app precluded the claimant’s use of Apple’s VoiceOver software for iOS, and as a result did not conform to the iOS accessibility guidelines.
Responding to the judgment, Domino’s Pizza called for nationwide accessibility standards in light of a recent “tsunami of website accessibility litigation” in the US. In 2018, over 2,200 lawsuits were filed relating to website accessibility, a 181% increase over the previous year.
Although this ruling is confined to the US, parallels can be drawn in the UK. Whilst there have been few such claims in the UK, arguably it is only a matter of time until a similar case is seen here. Under English law, section 29 of the Equality Act 2010 (the Act) imposes a legal duty on service providers to make “reasonable adjustments” to enable accessibility for disabled people. The Act’s corresponding codes of practice also suggest that service providers should take positive steps to ensure disabled users can access their services, which can include websites. This may include the testing of websites by disabled users, or by undertaking an accessibility audit.
This position is reinforced by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), an internationally recognised set of recommendations that is primarily aimed at improving web accessibility for disabled users. Regulations introduced last year are based on WCAG standards, and are now mandatory for public sector bodies.
Whether for ethical, legal or commercial reasons, businesses with websites and mobile apps should seek to ensure unhindered accessibility for all users and check the position with their website developers. For example, businesses should enable browser settings to be changed to make content easier to read, facilitate a screen reader to ‘read’ (speak) content aloud or enable the use of voice commands.
Failure to make reasonable adjustments could constitute unlawful discrimination, which in turn could lead to a claim for damages and adverse publicity, as seen in this case.
 The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018.