I’m sure it’s safe to say almost all of us have experienced a craving for pizza in our lifetimes. (Personally, my favorite is a large Marion’s Supreme.) Well, imagine yourself in the shoes of a blind person who was unable to order a delicious pie because of his disability.
In 2016, a blind customer sued Domino’s Pizza because their website and mobile app neither offered him a reasonable means to order pizza online nor the ability to take advantage of online discounts. The case has been making the rounds within the legal system ever since. But recently, the courts ruled in favor of the plaintiff because the Domino’s website and mobile app “impedes access to goods and services of its physical pizza franchises — which are places of public accommodation” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
What Does the ADA Say About Websites and Mobile Apps?
The ADA was initially published in 1990, before digital considerations would apply. But it was not updated until 2010. That same year marked the first of a continuing trend of rapid growth in e-commerce as a large part of the American economy. Yet despite the rise of online retailers, digital properties weren’t addressed in the 2010 update.
The ADA was originally written for physical “brick and mortar” facilities, which leaves legal ramifications pertaining to digital properties like websites and mobile apps a bit unclear.
Well, Domino’s has officially sent the case to the Supreme Court.
What Could This Mean for Your Website and Mobile Apps?
If this ruling is upheld by the Supreme Court, a very clear message will be sent to (at the very least) businesses that are selling tangible goods via digital means which also have physical locations. It wouldn’t be a stretch to see a more aggressive push to include any and all websites that have an economic impact involving goods and/or services.
For now, given the “brick and mortar” language in the ADA, there’s no mandate to require all websites and mobile apps to comply with the ADA. But cases like this can snowball. My recommendation is to follow the story as it plays out. If I were selling tangible goods from both a physical and digital storefront, I would start researching web accessibility best practices and plan on incorporating them into my websites and mobile apps.
Frankly, if you are considering a new or refreshed website or mobile app, there’s certainly benefits to making it usable and accessible to as many people as possible anyway.
What Is Website Accessibility?
The most popular accessibility standard for developers is currently the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1.
According to WCAG, their purpose is to make “Web content more accessible to people with disabilities. Accessibility involves a wide range of disabilities, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning, and neurological disabilities.”
I won’t go into detail, but for the sake of a summary, here are some highlights of what WCAG 2.1 addresses:
- Images — Add alt tags that properly describe all images. This allows a visually impaired user to fully understand what is on the page, since the alt text will be available to their screen readers.
- Font size adjustments — Visually impaired users should be able to increase font size by up to 200% without any loss in readability or functionality.
- Keyboard accessibility — Users should be able to navigate the entire website using only a keyboard. For example, someone should be able to use the Tab key to cycle through all links on a page if they cannot operate a mouse.
- Flashes — No webpage should have anything that flashes more than three times per second to avoid inducing photosensitive seizures.
- Contrast — WCAG has numerous contrast recommendations to ensure all text and images are visible to color-blind users. For example, text and the background on which it sits should have a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1.
- Distinguishability — WCAG discourages the use of color alone to differentiate things like inline links or important content. For example, if you have an inline link in the middle of a paragraph that is styled exactly like the font around it except for its color, a color-blind or visually impaired user will likely not be able to distinguish it as a clickable element.
What’s Next for ADA Compliance?
Litigation is a very good motivator. This ruling could add a lot of pressure for businesses to comply with the ADA standards — especially those selling products in physical and digital spaces (like Domino’s).
However, as a working professional in the field, I encourage you not to wait to offer the highest percentage of users the best UI/UX you can. Many of the items that are covered under WCAG can easily be addressed during the design phase of a website or mobile app with proper consideration. The benefits of doing so far outweigh the cons, since there really aren’t any!