In a digital-first world, it’s incumbent upon businesses to ensure that customers can access the websites and apps these businesses provide — and that means all customers. If your company is not inclusive of consumers with disabilities, you are not only precluding them from doing business with you — and missing out on a huge share of the consumer market — you’re opening yourself up to lawsuits as well.
Two years ago, Domino’s Pizza inadvertently became the poster child illustrating the importance of inclusivity for customers with disabilities. It was then that Guillermo Robles, a blind man in California, brought a lawsuit against the chain after he was unable to order food via the company’s website or mobile app using his Internet screen reader. Robles contended that his ability to access and do business with the company online should be protected by Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
But Domino’s contested Robles’ claim that the ADA covered his grievance, contending that because the law predated the Internet, it outlined no clear rules for online or mobile compliance. Robles argued the ADA does not only apply to the goods and services in a place of public accommodation, but also to goods and services of a place of public accommodation, including digital ecommerce interactions.
Fast-forward to October 2019, and the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Domino’s and upheld a 9th Circuit Court ruling, which states that the ADA protects access not just to physical restaurants or stores, but also to businesses’ websites and apps.
A Wake-Up Call
This decision serves as a wake-up call for companies of all sizes that do business online and do not maintain accessible digital storefronts. And while the lawsuit could still go back to trial, the Domino’s case will continue to have a domino effect: Retailers have a responsibility to ensure digital experiences are inclusive and accessible to all users, or risk exposing themselves to litigation.
ADA-related website lawsuits increased 31 percent in Q1 2019 alone, with retailers accounting for 60 percent of those claims. If companies don’t build or retrofit apps and websites for accessibility, it is no longer a question of if they will be sued — but when.
Besides upholding responsibilities for inclusivity and compliance, businesses that don’t provide accessibility are missing out on a huge share of the consumer market and, in effect, shutting disabled Americans out of a substantial portion of the economy. According to the American Institutes for Research, roughly one in five Americans has a disability, representing approximately half of a trillion dollars in disposable income. And the percentage of people with disabilities will continue to grow with an aging population.
In Domino’s case, 65 percent of the company’s U.S. sales come from digital channels, so no matter the final outcome of its appeals, the pizza giant would be missing a significant share of that market should it not remedy its online inaccessibility issues.
The ‘physical-digital’ nexus
The determination that there is a “sufficient nexus” between the Domino’s online and physical domains has certainly set a landmark precedent for the application of ADA compliance in digital ecommerce transactions. There’s no question that digital and physical retail environments will increasingly converge. And With Web-enabled transactions representing 50 percent of total U.S. retail sales — and online sales growing more than 15 percent year over year, according to recent Forrester stats — companies must consider how this nexus precedent will impact their own businesses going forward.
With digital increasingly becoming the medium by which we participate in the economy and commerce, it will no longer be held to public accommodation standards by the extent of its nexus to the physical location. Instead, ecommerce transactions will be held to equal, if not higher, accessibility standards than their bricks-and-mortar counterparts.
Tenets of accessibility
So, if your company isn’t currently meeting these compliance demands, how can you get there? It starts with ensuring your websites and mobile apps are accessible to every user, in every way. That means not only thinking about the big picture, but also smaller details, such as including image captions for visually impaired customers who use screen readers, and allowing consumers to navigate your website using only a keyboard.
These details must be conceptualized from the earliest phases of the design process by making sure proper tags and attributes are present across your site. Making your products accessible to all consumers requires a relatively small investment and is now part of the social contract between brands and customers. As importantly, delivering inclusive experiences can ultimately save your business much more in potential litigations and lost revenue.
If you’d like to learn how Gorilla Group can help your company design a human-centric ecommerce experience, get in touch.