A US lawsuit against Domino’s Pizza has highlighted that popular food delivery apps are yet to meet accessibility standards for vision-impaired users, despite universal guidelines having existed for a decade. 

Which-50 has confirmed several leading food ordering apps in Australia do not fully meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, the global standards for web content released in 2008. 

Australian versions of Deliveroo, UberEats, and Domino’s applications and web sites do not yet fully comply with WCAG 2.0, although all of these companies have said they are continuing to improve their digital accessibility and already offer some assistive features.

But by not meeting WCAG standards, the companies risk excluding people with disabilities from their digital offerings or burdening them with inconsistent accessibility features, according to accessibility experts. 

“Accessibility barriers stop people with a disability doing the most ordinary activities that other people do day-to-day,” said Sean Murphy, a director at the Digital Gap Initiative, an Australian organisation advocating for digital accessibility awareness and reform.

Murphy, who is blind, told Which-50 accessibility barriers can stop people using many of the online tools others take for granted — like paying a bill, ordering takeaway or buying a ticket to an event.

But as digital technology becomes more commonplace, the potential barriers expand too.

“Let us not forget also that accessibility barriers are not limited to ordering fast food or using web sites and apps,” Murphy said.

“They impact touch screen technologies of all sorts — such as home appliances, EFTPOS terminals, self-service kiosks, lift controls in public buildings, [and] medical devices.”

Thanks to efforts by organisations like the DGI, awareness has improved considerably in recent years. However, advocates say the problematic view that accessibility increases cost and requires clunky interfaces persists in some business communities.

Domino’s Supreme Court Order 

US fast-food business Domino’s — a company that has built its successful turnaround on technology investment and digital channels — has spent years arguing it should not have to make its digital channels accessible to all people. 

Last month Domino’s asked the Supreme Court to weigh in on its ongoing case against Guillermo Robles, a blind man who is suing the pizza giant after he was unable to effectively use a screen reader while ordering on the Domino’s app and web site.

Robles is arguing Domino’s inaccessibility violated his rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Domino’s argues the requirements of the legislation, which was passed in 1990, do not extend to digital content and the cost of addressing its digital accessibility is undue.

But the Supreme Court declined to hear Dominos’ arguments, effectively endorsing the continuation of the current case in a lower court which has already found Domino’s web site and app should be accessible. The case is ongoing and could eventually force Domino’s to ensure its web sites and apps are accessible to people with disabilities.

Lainey Feingold, a United States disability rights lawyer and author, told Which-50 the case now goes back to the trial court for further action and the Americans with Disabilities Act can “be a legal tool to advance accessibility”.

“Domino’s may choose to settle the case and make its sites and apps more accessible, or it may be ordered to do so by the lower court.”

And if Domino’s is forced to improve its accessibility in the US, Feingold said, it should be relatively easy to implement the changes elsewhere, including Australia. 

Feingold said Domino’s likely received bad legal advice on its accessibility responsibilities — a symptom of the notion in some parts of the US legal and business community that accessibility is not a legal requirement.

Understandably, the matter is also being closely monitored by accessibility advocates around the world.

“There have been a number of [US] cases over the years where people have tried to challenge the need to make their digital environments accessible,” said Stewart Hay, the co-founder and Managing Director of Intopia, an Australian digital consultancy specialising in accessibility.

“And the reason for that is that the wording of the Americans With Disabilities Act was designed to be quite broad and a lot of it was at the very early days of the internet and [digital] technology.”

Some companies have interpreted the legislation in an overly literal way, Hay said, going against the spirit of the Act. He argued that the Act was deliberately written to accommodate advances in technology.

According to Hay, Domino’s position is backed by several other businesses in the US, making the case a potential landmark one.

“In a sense, it was really Domino’s trying to appeal for the right to discriminate against users,” Hay told Which-50. “They’re trying to argue that there are other methods that users can still operate and thus they wanted the right to discriminate for people using their digital environment.”

By now, Hay said, Domino’s legal costs likely exceed the cost it would have taken to rectify its lack of accessibility.

Hay said increased digital accessibility litigation in the US is helping drive awareness but is also giving rise to opportunistic lawyers demanding relatively small immediate settlements from companies.

He said in Australia it swings the other way. The legal system discourages action with high costs and the risk of paying costs when unsuccessful — significant deterrents for people with disabilities considering challenging large businesses.

Digital accessibility has rarely been tested in Australian courts outside of three high profile cases.

In 2000, Bruce Maguire challenged the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games over the accessibility of the Olympic web site. In 2014, Gisele Mesnage sued Coles over its inaccessible web site. And in late 2018 two blind people challenged the Commonwealth Bank’s touchscreen payment terminals for a lack of accessibility options. 

All three cases resulted in determinations or settlements that the organisations must fix their sites to make them accessible. 

Australia’s Disability Discrimination Act, in conjunction with advisory notes from the Australian Human Rights Commission, requires organisations to offer equal access to their digital products and services.

But those who have experienced the mechanisms first hand say change is needed.

Gisele Mesnage, who successfully sued Coles and runs the Digital Gap Initiative, told Which-50 that Australia’s laws, like the US, lack specific provisions for digital accessibility.

“In Australia, while in theory people with disability can pursue legal actions for web and app accessibility under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), in effect the Act does not currently include clear provisions on access to digital goods and services,” Mesnage said.

“In this digital age, it is vital for the DDA, Australian Consumer Law (ACL), and our legal framework more generally to be updated to uphold the principle of digital inclusion.”

Mesnage said her organisation is also monitoring the Domino’s case in the US to help inform its own work towards the “systematic reforms” still needed in Australia.

Still some gaps

In Australia, Domino’s conceded that there are still gaps in the accessibility of its sites and applications, but said it is actively working to address accessibility gaps. The steps it is taking include an audit of its new ordering app involving external stakeholders to “ensure it meets accessibility guidelines”. 

“[The external stakeholders] have provided us with a number of recommendations which will be implemented before launch,” a Domino’s spokesperson told Which-50. 

“This includes ensuring the app works correctly with accessibility APIs, uses the appropriate colours and contrasts, has clear and easily identifiable navigation options, and that all content and functionality is available to screen reader users.”

The spokesperson said the Domino’s web site can currently be read with a screen reader and in-store staff “are ready to support customers with their ordering requirements”. Domino’s said when accessibility problems are found by customers it works with the customer to address the problem.

As more consumers turn to food delivery platforms like UberEats and Deliveroo, there is also an opportunity to improve the accessibility of platforms, providing access some individual restaurants may not be providing. 

Deliveroo confirmed that while its web sites and apps are “built with accessibility in mind” and the company has dedicated accessibility groups within its engineering teams, its platforms do not necessarily meet WCAG standards either.

A company spokesperson told Which-50, “We absolutely believe that improvements to accessibility mean improvements for everybody. It helps users with disabilities and impairments use and benefit from our service, and it makes an even better user experience for everyone.

“Deliveroo embeds accessibility in all of its design, ensuring it provides an inclusive experience for everyone using our platform, including those with disabilities ranging from minor to severe.”

Uber, which is responsible for the UberEats platform, declined to answer Which-50’s questions on the accessibility of its platform in Australia. Its global literature suggests the company is still working towards WCAG 2.0 and is calling for feedback when issues are found.

The progress from companies on digital accessibility is welcomed by Intopia’s Hay but he said the attitude of some companies — that providing non-digital alternatives mitigates poor digital accessibility — is problematic.

“Every person with a disability basically just wants to be able to be self-sufficient and to live a full and complete life. And as part of that process if we’re putting in any forms of barriers or limitations to people then that’s not allowing them to take advantage of the services and solutions that are available to them.”

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