Not All Pizzas are Created Equal

Not All Pizzas are Created Equal

By:  Megan Borella and Diana Nguyen

In January 2019, Domino's Pizza delivered a case to the Supreme Court regarding the accessibility of their online and mobile ordering process. They are arguing that the Americans with Disabilities Act is not applicable to the Internet, as it is not a physical space.

Background: The ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990 and is a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination based on a disability. This act is meant to provide equal access to all regarding public accommodations, which caused many businesses to begin adding in wheelchair ramps and other physical changes to their facilities. It further changed life for those with disabilities through working to ensure that they would receive the same access in public schools as their peers. Now, as modern technology is coming to the forefront of our society and granting the disabled a whole new kind of access to independence we previously had not enjoyed, we, along with our country's government, struggle to fully understand and define how the ADA fits in.


What is the ADA? The Americans with Disabilities Act (1990)  A civil rights law prohibiting discrimination based on a disability. Provides equal access to all regarding public accommodations. (i.e. adding wheelchair ramps to entrances) Looks at "how programs, services, and activities are delivered". ("ADA Tool Kit: Chapter 1, Statues and Regulations", ADA Best Practices Tool Kit for State and Local Government.)

Background: The Case

In their argument against the plaintiff who filed the lawsuit regarding the accessibility of Domino's web site, Domino's argues that the Internet is not a physical space, and therefore does not fall under the provisions of the ADA. They believe that a ruling in favor of the plaintiff will impact not just them, but every place of business with an accompanying web site. These days, finding a store that does not also have its own web site is close to impossible, so this ruling could have far-reaching consequences in the world of accessibility. A ruling against Domino's would mean that every business that does not solely operate online would need to ensure their web sites were fully usable for anyone with a disability. As the Internet is not static, Domino's makes the point that altering and continually updating their sites would be a huge, unwieldy undertaking for most businesses to take on, and would greatly affect what content was shared through the Internet and how often future updates were made. Having to adhere to strict web accessibility standards that the majority of the population are unfamiliar with would greatly discourage many companies from keeping their sites current and up to date, thus negatively affecting the population as a whole.

Text Infographic: Robles v. Domino's.  Robles:  Guillermo Robles, who is blind, said neither the company's website. nor its mobile app allowed him to order the pizza he wanted..." Robert Barnes, the Washington Post.  Domino's:  Domino's is claiming that the ADA does not apply to the internet.  Their interpretation: websites do no need to be made accessible.


Text Infographic:  Timeline - September 2016 - Robles sues Domino's after two order Domino's pizza from the company's website using his screen reader.  March 2017 - District Court Judge dismisses the lawsuit...on the basis that applying the ADA would violate the Domino's due process rights.  October 2018 - Robles appeals to the Court of Appeals.  Robles files and appeal to the Ninth Circuit to reopen and hear the case.  January 2019, The Ninth Circuit rules in favor of Robles. The Ninth Circuit Court rules that Domino's is liable to meet the ADA standards on its website and mobile apps.  June 2019 - Domino's reaches out the the Supreme Court.  Domino's files their write of certiorari with the US Supreme Court to review and overturn the Ninth Circuit's decision.

Web accessibility is a complex issue with many components, depending on a person's disability. For the blind, how we access a site in large part has to do with what code was used to construct it, and how our screen readers interpret it. Often, since web sites are not designed with the disabled in mind, we are not able to click on various elements throughout a page, causing us to be at a serious disadvantage. Sometimes, we are able to call a company to accomplish the same task we were trying to perform online, but this is not always an option, and often the customer service representatives we speak to don't understand why we can't use their sites. Performing a task over the phone can be tedious and burdensome, discouraging us from using certain companies or returning to various web sites due to the time-consuming inconveniences that can arise. Our limited access to many parts of the Internet is not fair and does not put us on a level playing field with fully able-bodied members of society—an issue that ADA was purposely designed to address—but we also have to take into consideration how meeting our unique needs will impact society at large, as we are a small minority. It brings into question what is the best way to create lasting change: through lawsuits and lengthy court proceedings, or spending even more time lobbying Congress and working with our elected representatives to write bills that will ensure we receive the lasting equality we all so desire. At this time, it is still unclear which is the most effective method, and the majority of those with disabilities do not always agree on what is the best way to ensure our needs are understood and met by the wider world.

Read the whole writ of certiorari for more details on the arguments for the petition.


Text Infographic:  Why this Matters- What happens with the Supreme Court's decision?  If the Supreme Court doesn't hear the case... the the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal's decision stands and Domino's is liable to provide accessible design on their website and mobile app.  If the Supreme Court does hear the case AND they rule in favor of Robles...other companies may need to follow suit and ensure their websites' accessibility.  If the Supreme Court does hear the case AND they rule in favor of Domino's...websites are excluded from ADA standards and not need to be accessible.


Update:  Supreme Court Decision & Cultural Impact

Monday, October 7, 2019, the US Supreme Court denied the request for centiorari.  This means, that the US Supreme Court upholds the Ninth Circuit Court decision that Domino's is required to make its platforms digitally accessible.  This decision solidifies the precedent that the ADA applies to digital content even though the ADA language predates modern digital platforms.  Since the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is the accepted international digital accessibility standard, the ruling expects digital platforms to conform to these rules.

This case brought to the forefront the concept that businesses being unwilling to design inclusively and attempting to legally insist that they are not obligated to give access or equally service is offensive and brand damaging.  Even years after this ruling, the damage has been done and many of our UCLA disabled community and disabled folks and allies everywhere boycott Domino's as a stance against these discriminatory intentions.


Originally Posted:  27 August 2019

Updated:  22 November 2023