The Americans with Disabilities Act requires equal access for everyone in physical spaces, but attorneys argue that current ADA regulations also extend to how companies do business on the web.
“It’s no different than someone not being able to move into your store with a wheelchair if someone without vision can’t access your website to buy your goods and services,” said attorney Marc Dann.
Dann represents plaintiffs suing Oak Brook-based McDonalds and Grubhub, a mobile food delivery service headquartered in Chicago, alleging the companies’ websites and mobile apps are inaccessible to blind customers.
Dann settled a similar case against Kraft Foods Group earlier this year.
People with visual impairments browse websites and mobile apps using screen reading software that reads text aloud. JAWS (Jobs Access With Speech) is a popular program for Microsoft Windows. VoiceOver is a built-in screen reader that supports refreshable braille displays for Apple products.
According to the complaint against Grubhub, the plaintiffs found perusing menus difficult and encountered “multiple unlabeled or mislabeled buttons and links.” Screen reader users also could not “select a restaurant through the headings because they are not labeled as clickable or accessible.”
In the case against McDonalds and Grubhub, Dann said many of the images on the companies’ websites and mobile apps don’t have “alternative text” embedded underneath the photo.
“Web accessibility requires that alt-text be coded with each picture so that screen-reading software can speak the alt-text where a sighted user sees pictures,” the complaint reads.
Dann said the myriad of issues has denied customers with visual impairments full and equal access, as required under ADA rules.
A Grubhub spokeswoman said while the company cannot comment on pending litigation, it is “committed to supporting diners through our 24/7 customer care team and offering resources that help answer questions and resolve issues that may arise.”
McDonalds, through a spokeswoman, said the company would not comment further because of the ongoing legal matter but added, “we always strive to provide each and every customer with the highest level of customer service.”
The U.S. Department of Justice is expected to release updated ADA regulations specific to websites by 2018, but Dann said companies – big and small – could be vulnerable to lawsuits if their websites and mobile apps don’t comply.
“In the (United States Court of Appeals for the) 7th Circuit, which includes Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, the law here is that you don’t have to have a physical store to be subject to the ADA,” Dann said.
Sandy Murillo, 29, lost her vision when she was 18 months old. Today, she co-hosts a radio show and works as a financial development assistant at the non-profit Chicago Lighthouse. Murillo said website compliance to the ADA is not just good business, it’s “the right thing to do.”
“Not having access to the internet is like not having ramps or Braille in physical facilities. That’s today’s access issue,” said Murillo.