San Diego and California businesses that operate websites have been confronted with an increasing number of lawsuits concerning website accessibility under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) — 42 U.S.C. § 12181, and the California Unruh Act. What has been “evolving law” over the last several years has become “settled law.” Essentially, businesses must make their websites accessible to the visually impaired if those websites facilitate access to physical locations.
The same legal rules will likely apply to any mobile apps operated/owned by your business. This is one of the underreported aspects of the recently decided US Ninth Circuit case of Domino’s Pizza, LLC v. Robles, 913 F.3d 898 (US 9th Cir. 2019). Robles is the first case to affirm that mobile apps must be ADA-compliant. Given the ever-changing legal environment, it is essential to retain an experienced San Diego corporate attorney for advice and counsel. Robles involved unsuccessful attempts by a visually impaired person to order customized pizzas from Domino’s, a well-known pizza restaurant franchise. The complaint alleged that the Domino’s website was not accessible and also that the Domino’s smartphone app was not accessible. The trial court dismissed the case, but the Court of Appeals sitting in San Francisco reversed. The Robles court held that the ADA applied to both the website and the app.
With respect to websites, to make them ADA-compliant, certain coding must be embedded in the website structure. This allows the visually impaired to use a “reader program” on their localized computer. The reader program vocalizes the images, graphics, and text allowing the visually impaired person full use and access of the information provided by the website. The most commonly used guidelines for the coding are published by the Web Accessibility Initiative (“WAI”) on their World Wide Web Consortium website. See here. The guidelines are called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”). The WAI also publishes guidelines for mobile apps and has obtained the cooperation of various app publishers such as Apple, Inc. Indeed, Apple has its own set of accessibility guidelines for use with its products and services. See here.
Essentially, the same solution is used to make mobile apps accessible to the visually impaired. Coding must be imbedded to allow the user’s reader program to vocalize — or make audible — the visual and text elements of the app. However, mobile phones and tablets have unique features that are not common on desktop computers. As an example, the smaller size allows the device to be rotated showing a “portrait” or “landscape” orientation of the visual materials. The coding that is embedded must account for the user’s ability to shift the orientation. Other technical issues addressed in various versions of the WCAG include the exclusive use of touch screens, the small size of display, the ability to expand, zoom in and out, the use of a stylus and more.
As can be seen, making a phone app ADA-compliant is not technically difficult or impossible. Legally speaking, it is now required — or will be very soon — that such mobile apps be ADA-compliant. It will save your business a lot of money if you begin working on accessibility now rather than waiting for a lawsuit to be filed.
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For more information, contact attorney Michael Leonard, Esq., of San Diego Corporate Law. Mr. Leonard can be reached at (858) 483-9200 or via email. Mr. Leonard has been named “Best of the Bar” for four years running by the San Diego Business Journal. Mr. Leonard provides a full panoply of legal services for businesses including formation of corporate entities of all types. Like us on Facebook.