The Domino’s website accessibility court case has been the nation’s most significant cautionary tale of what not to do when the U.S. Court System comes after you for having an inaccessible website.
For the Uninitiated, Here’s What Went Down.
A visually impaired Domino’s fan needed a pie but couldn’t order online due to critical website accessibility pitfalls. They sued Domino’s, in/out of court for a while, spent millions on legal fees, then the case reached the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court refused to hear Domino’s request for dismissal on the simple grounds that the utility of any site should be equal for those with disabilities and those without.
Website Accessibility Is a Legal Obligation.
First and foremost, it set a groundbreaking legal precedent. Without boring you on the lengthy legal history of website accessibility (but you can read more about that in my previous blog here), dating back to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, or even before that with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the achilleas heel of the accessibility movement has been the lack of formal laws to hold companies accountable.
Instead, the primary resource for prosecutors has been the industry-specific legal precedents, most of which coming out of the 11th and 9th court of appeals (Florida and California, respectively). However, the Domino’s case has established a precedent with the Supreme Court of the United States. In contrast, most other cases are decided in their circuit courts without making too many waves for the industry.
The Domino’s case was a success for the disabled community – it drew multiple parallels to the Civil Rights Act that came so many years ago, ultimately deciding that the internet in its entirety must be compliant – experiences had by one human must be able to be had by all humans, no exceptions.
Accessibility Is a Priority for All Websites.
Secondly, you simply can’t ignore this subject anymore. The story was chronicled for the nation by the likes of The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNet, Gawker media group, most if not all major television news outlets, and the list seemingly never ends. The sweat started beaming down the foreheads of website managers and project stakeholders nationwide, promoting the easily ignorable sticky note on their monitors to a line item on the agenda for their next executive meeting.
However, for the sake of complete transparency, it’d be dangerous for us to turn away from some of the points that Domino’s lawyers made during the trial in their defense. The unfortunate truth is that the written law just isn’t where it needs to be yet to allow for lawful prosecution of companies that violate what we believe to be fundamental human rights issues. Therefore, nobody could expect a corporate giant like Domino’s to roll over in court without a fight.
Should Domino’s have quit early on and stopped shoveling money into the fire when they could have just made their website accessible for what might have been half the cost of what their lawyers must have charged them to take this so far? Probably – there’s a clear missed opportunity here for Domino’s to become leaders for web accessibility and shape how to navigate the space for other industry giants that will inevitably have to one day fall in line. But from an unbiased and revenue-focused business perspective, the fight might have been worth picking if they perceived the long-term cost of having to abide by what are becoming perpetually expanding accessibility requirements outweighed the immediate legal cost, not to mention this brief period of horrible publicity.