[NFBWATlk] ADA Title III Compliance for Restaurant Websites and Apps

Merribeth Greenberg merribeth.manning at gmail.com
Tue Jan 21 17:51:31 UTC 2020

ADA Title III Compliance for Restaurant Websites and Apps

3 Min Read 1.8.2020 By Caroline Page, Carlton Hilson
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits places of
public accommodation from discriminating against individuals with
disabilities. By now, most restaurants have become familiar with Title III
compliance when it comes to modifying facilities and procedures – enabling
disabled patrons to have equal access to goods and services. Restaurants,
however, may not have considered whether their websites are equally
accessible under ADA Title III.

Websites have no physical location, raising a common question: how can a
website be considered a “place” of public accommodation subject to ADA
Title III’s accessibility requirements. Recently, federal courts within the
First, Second and Seventh Circuits have held that websites are “places”
under ADA Title III and therefore should be accessible to disabled patrons.
Therefore, websites within those jurisdictions must be ADA compliant even
without a traditional brick and mortar establishment. These rulings are
especially noteworthy for companies operating restaurants with no physical
location – also known as “ghost” restaurants.

Restaurants seeking to become ADA compliant may be understandably confused
about their obligations.

Other federal district and appeals courts within the Third, Sixth, Ninth
and Eleventh Circuits have held that websites are not automatically places
of public accommodation, but that Title III applies if the websites are
sufficiently connected to physical locations. Many restaurants have
increased reliance on online and mobile ordering, including the launch of
proprietary mobile apps to facilitate quick and efficient ordering for
repeat customers. Restaurants should exercise caution, however, in offering
websites and apps that are heavily integrated with ordering without
assessing accessibility for disabled patrons.

A recent case from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals provides an excellent
example of how courts may analyze the nexus between a mobile application
(app) and a physical restaurant location. Robles v. Domino’s Pizza,
LLC made headlines in October 2019 when the Supreme Court denied Domino’s
Pizza’s petition for review of a Ninth Circuit decision permitting a blind
plaintiff’s claim to proceed under the ADA. The plaintiff alleged that
Domino’s violated Title III because the chain’s website and app do not
support JAWS screen-reading software. The Ninth Circuit found that the
website and app facilitate access to the restaurant’s goods and services at
places of public accommodation, requiring accessibility. Because the
Supreme Court denied review, the decision stands, and the case against
Domino’s can proceed.

Restaurants seeking to become ADA compliant may be understandably confused
about their obligations. Currently, the Department of Justice (which is
responsible for issuing ADA standards) has not adopted standards for
website and app accessibility. In the interim, restaurants should consider
assessing websites and apps against the Web Content Accessibility
Guidelines (WCAG) AA standards. The WCAG standards are widely accepted as
providing for equal access and have been adopted by multiple countries,
companies and U.S. state and local governments. The WCAG 2.0 standards are
frequently cited in ADA Title III complaints. In June 2018, however, the
new WCAG 2.1 standards were released. There are three “levels” of
compliance with the WCAG standards: A, AA and AAA, with AAA being the
highest form of accessibility. The AA level is generally considered the
appropriate level for most organizations and addresses the major barriers
encountered by individuals with disabilities who use Internet sites. While
there is no federal law requirement adopting the WCAG standards, they are
frequently used by plaintiffs’ expert witnesses to argue Title III
noncompliance and have even been court-ordered as a form of relief.

 Another option some restaurants may consider is to avoid operating a
proprietary app for ordering and using third-party mobile delivery services
(Postmates, UberEats, Waitr, etc.) instead. However, this is likely not a
comprehensive solution to the Title III problem. For example, hotels have
been sued for ADA compliance issues even when booking occurred through
third-party sites like Expedia. Further, even if a restaurant’s ordering
goes through a third-party app, the restaurant’s main website could still
be vulnerable to Title III suits. Accordingly, restaurants should consider
that websites and apps can lead to Title III claims and assess options for


Beth Greenberg

More information about the NFBWATlk mailing list