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Your Website is Accessible, but is Your Mobile App?

Written by: C.P. Hoffman

Retail Apps on a Mobile PhoneMobile apps are everywhere. The explosion of smartphones and tablets over the past decade have made apps an increasingly important way for businesses to connect with their customers. In the United States alone, at least 160 million adults have used a mobile phone to make at least one purchase, with younger users especially likely to do so. Mobile apps are a growing part of that, as shoppers flock to the well-designed store fronts and loyalty programs they offer.

But, mobile apps—and kiosks, which are often built on the same technology—can leave some shoppers and diners without access. Customers with disabilities encounter many barriers while using retail and dining mobile apps and kiosks. Some of these are minor inconveniences, but others can make navigating a mobile app extremely difficult or even impossible without help. An inaccessible app means lost revenue from those customers who won’t be shopping or dining with you.

Inaccessible apps can also put you at significant risk of a lawsuit under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While most people think of the ADA in the context of physical barriers, like the lack of an elevator or inaccessible parking spots, the law also applies to electronic barriers that prevent individuals with disabilities from using a website or mobile app. Lawsuits focused on digital barriers have increased significantly in the past several years, with over 800 cases filed in federal courts in 2017.

Although no court has yet ruled in an ADA case specifically dealing with mobile apps, a number of cases have been settled before trial, including cases against the restaurant chains Sweetgreen and Eatsa.

Sweetgreen

In March 2016, the National Federation of the Blind, on behalf of several named plaintiffs, sued the fast-casual restaurant Sweetgreen because its website and mobile app were inaccessible to individuals who were blind or low vision. The Sweetgreen website or app allows customers to customize salad orders, search by dietary preferences, and view nutritional information.

In January 2017, the parties reached a settlement, under which Sweetgreen agreed to, among other things, bring its website and mobile apps into conformance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA success criteria.

Eatsa

In March 2017, the automat-style fast food chain Eatsa fell victim to a Title III suit over the iPad-based kiosks it used for ordering. Customers place food orders either on an app downloaded to their own mobile devices or on an iPad mounted to a stand in the restaurant. But, the kiosk-mounted iPads were configured so that the iOS VoiceOver capabilities were turned off and could not be activated. The mounting system used for the iPads also obstructed the headphone jack, preventing customers who were blind or low vision from using the devices.

In September 2017, Eatsa reached a settlement with the plaintiffs in which it agreed to make its mobile apps (and its kiosks) accessible through built-in screen readers and implement an order notification system so customers who are blind can know when their orders are ready for pickup.
Register for Webinar
Not sure if you’re at legal risk because your mobile apps aren’t accessible to users with disabilities? Lucky for you, our mobile accessibility expert Kara VanRoekel is hosting a webinar on Thursday, May 31st at 2pm ET/11am PTTap into More Business: Accessible Mobile Apps for Retail & Restaurants, that explains what you need to know about the most common accessibility barriers in mobile apps and what you can do to avoid them. Check it out and register now!