US restaurant chain has trouble on the menu

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Tuesday, 16 May 2017 08:37am

The Olive Garden restaurant group in the US is accused of having a website that is inaccessible to the vision impaired, with a lawsuit filed in Florida in April 2017. The company is alleged to be violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which is the US equivalent of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) in Australia.

Red slash through wheelchair

Red slash through wheelchair

Olive Garden is a US casual dining restaurant chain specialising in Italian-American cuisine, and is a subsidiary of Darden Restaurants Inc with its HQ in Florida. The company is accused of having a website that is inaccessible to vision-impaired people and Dennis Haynes, who is legally blind, filed a lawsuit in April 2017 alleging violation of the ADA, as he was unable to access menus and ordering information online.

According to the complaint, the plaintiff alleges that he visited the defendant's website but was unable to enjoy full and equal access to it because portions of the site are not readable by screen-reading software. The plaintiff is seeking a judgment order for the company to alter, update and maintain its website to ensure accessibility, as well as paying attorney’s fees, costs, litigation expenses, and other remedies the court deems just.

The ADA prohibits places of ‘public accommodation’ like restaurants, from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. Traditionally, this has meant that companies have had to make their physical locations, and the goods and services offered therein, accessible to individuals with disabilities. Yet the rising shift from physical bricks-and-mortar locations to online web-based commerce has led courts to expand the definition of places of ‘public accommodation’ to include websites.

American supermarket chain, the Winn Dixie group is also alleged to be discriminating against those who are blind or vision impaired. What’s more, their recent motion to dismiss a court case against their websites was dismissed by District Court Judge Robert Scola, also based in Florida, after the US Department of Justice (DoJ) backed the plaintiff. DoJ was of the belief that the Act “applies to discrimination in the goods and services ‘of’ a place of public accommodation, rather than being limited to those goods and services provided ‘at’ or ‘in’ a place of public accommodation.”

The hearing found that allegations concerning the website’s store locator feature and prescription ordering service for in-store pick up, if proven, could establish “nexus between Winn-Dixie’s website and its physical stores.” This case is now on its way to a full-bench trial scheduled for June 2017.

As the litigation landscape around website inaccessibility continues to grow, the safest course of action for any organisation is to begin work on website accessibility right now. Not only can the legal risk of not being WCAG 2.0 compliant be mitigated, but more people with disability will be better served by the goods and services that companies and Government utilities offer and provide.

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