Should retailers and restaurants be required to offer Braille gift cards for visually impaired customers?
The Walt Disney Company is the latest business facing this legal question after a new lawsuit accused it of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act—the landmark 1990 law that codified civil rights for people living with disabilities—for not including the raised-dot writing system on gift cards at its Disney Store retail locations.
In a proposed class action filed in federal court in New York yesterday, lawyers for Kathy Wu, who is legally blind, say Disney is essentially denying “full and equal access” to visually impaired people. The lawyers are seeking a court injunction that would force the company to change its policies, along with unspecified compensatory damages for Wu and “all other persons similarly situated.”
According to the complaint, Brooklyn resident Wu contacted Disney on October 25 to ask if it sold Braille gift cards and was told by an employee that it does not. Because gift cards function as a way to obtain products and services sold at the Disney Store, Wu’s lawyers assert that the lack of accessible gift cards is tantamount to a “denial of its products and services offered thereby and in conjunction with its physical location.”
Disney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit is the latest in a series of very recent litigation aimed at retailers and eating establishments that don’t sell Braille gift cards. Last week, news outlets reported that Hooters was sued for not selling Braille gift cards. A similar suit was also filed against Krispy Kreme Doughnuts.
And those aren’t the only ones. Lawyers writing on the Lexology blog this week say they’ve uncovered no fewer than 33 cases filed in U.S. district courts in New York in recent days and that all the plaintiffs are represented by one or both of the same two lawyers. The lawyers, Lexology notes, are using a similar argument being used in ADA lawsuits regarding website accessibility.
Whether or not these new lawsuits will succeed in court remains to be seen, but the lawyers could have an uphill climb. As the blog post points out, arguing for website accessibility and arguing that retailers should offer Braille gift cards are not necessarily equivalent:
“Website accessibility litigation is premised on the DOJ’s express position (first enunciated in 1996) that a public accommodation using a website to communicate information about its goods and services must provide such communications through accessible means. The DOJ has not previously opined on whether Title III requires that gift cards be offered with Braille.”
However it eventually plays out, expect legal uncertainty around accessibility to continue for a long time. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the issue after Domino’s Pizza appealed a court ruling over the accessibility of its website. The Supreme Court’s nonaction allowed a lawsuit by a blind customer to proceed, but it didn’t settle the pressing questions at the heart of the case—namely, what businesses are, and are not, required to do to ensure that their services are accessible to all.