By Kelly Tyko, USA TODAY | Published 9:56 p.m. ET Oct. 7, 2019
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to not hear Domino’s petition on whether its website is accessible to the disabled is considered a loss for the pizza giant and a win for disability advocates.
The case was one of a long list of those the Supreme Court announced it wouldn’t hear, and as is usual the high court made no comment in declining to take the case. Monday was the Supreme Court’s first day of arguments after its summer break.
The order to not hear the case keeps in place a January ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that Domino’s and other retailers must make its online services accessible. It also means the case is expected to go to trial.
“Although Domino’s is disappointed that the Supreme Court will not review this case, we look forward to presenting our case at the trial court,” Domino’s said in a statement posted on its website Monday. “We also remain steadfast in our belief in the need for federal standards for everyone to follow in making their websites and mobile apps accessible.”
Photo courtesy of Domino’s Pizza
Guillermo Robles, who is blind, claimed in U.S. District Court in California that the pizza maker violated the federal disability requirements because he couldn’t order a pizza on his iPhone: The website didn’t work with his screen-reader software.
“In today’s tech-savvy world, blind and visually-impaired people have the ability to access websites and mobile applications using keyboards in conjunction with screen access software that vocalizes the visual information found on a computer screen or displays the content on a refreshable Braille display,” the lawsuit argued.
In January, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Domino’s and other retailers must make its online services accessible.
Robles’ attorney, Joe Manning, said in a statement to CNBC Monday that the Supreme Court’s decision was “the right call on every level.”
“The blind and visually impaired must have access to websites and apps to fully and equally participate in modern society – something nobody disputes,” he said. “This outcome furthers that critical objective for them and is a credit to our society.”
Domino’s along with the National Retail Federation and Retail Litigation Center urged the Supreme Court to hear the case because the appeal court’s ruling “stretched the definition too far by deciding that websites and mobile applications must be judged as public accommodations rather than just considered as one of many ways in which a consumer might access a retailer’s offerings.”
According to the pizza company, a customized pizza can be ordered in-store, by phone, text, social media and voice-activated devices like Alexa and Google Home. Domino’s says it is developing a proprietary voice-ordering digital assistant, Dom.
“With a growing number of website accessibility cases being filed and conflicting rulings from circuit courts across the country, this is an issue that needs the clarity of a Supreme Court ruling,” said Stephanie Martz, the retail federation’s senior vice president and general counsel, in a statement. “Without guidance on what rules should apply, litigation will continue to divert resources from actually making websites accessible.”
Domino’s said in its statement that a nationwide standard would “eliminate the tsunami of website accessibility litigation that has been filed by plaintiffs’ lawyers exploiting the absence of a standard for their own benefit.”
For Pat Quinn, eye-tracking technology is a lifeline to the world. Mr. Quinn, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, is almost completely paralyzed. To speak, write, change the television channel or turn on the lights in his Yonkers, N.Y., home, he flicks his eyes over a computer screen. The device has an infrared camera below the display; he can “click” on files, links or letters on a keyboard by looking at them.
“I honestly don’t know how patients remained active without this. I use it every second I am awake,” said Mr. Quinn, 36, through a voice synthesizer. Mr. Quinn works as an advocate for patients with ALS; in 2014, he co-created the “Ice Bucket Challenge,” a viral social-media campaign that raised $115 million for research into ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, according to the ALS Association.
Mr. Quinn’s device is one example of how eye-tracking technology is surfacing in the medical field. Health care professionals are beginning to use it to teach medical students, improve surgeries and diagnose issues such as nearsightedness. One day, the technology may even help treat eye diseases.
Assistive computers and speech-generating devices like Mr. Quinn’s are not new. The physicist Stephen Hawking used one for decades, but that device and most others like it required patients to select words using a joystick or physical switch. Mr. Hawking controlled his computer by twitching a cheek muscle, a painstaking method that made it increasingly difficult to communicate as his disease progressed.
In contrast, Mr. Quinn’s device, made by Stockholm-based Tobii, is quicker, more accurate and easier to operate, says the company. Tobii was founded in 2001 after John Elvesjö, then an engineering student, built a computerized camera that could count bubbles in liquids. After realizing it could also track his pupils, he began developing an eye-tracking system that could control a computer. The team initially positioned its system for use in scientific research but quickly identified a market in health care. “We had experts approach us at trade shows and conferences saying, ‘Do you understand how much good this could do for people with disabilities?’” said Henrik Eskilsson, chief executive and co-founder.
“Going into the 21st century, this technology will allow people with all kinds of disorders to go to work when they hadn’t been able to do that in the past,” said Howard Green, deputy director of professional services for the National Organization on Disability.
Pat Quinn, the co-creator of the ‘Ice Bucket Challenge,’ a viral social-media campaign that raised funds for research into ALS, gives a speech using a Tobii device. Photo: Pat Quinn
The technology faces some hurdles to mainstream adoption, including the price. Tobii’s flagship speech-generating devices, like the one Mr. Quinn uses, retail for $14,000. Most patients are able to subsidize that cost using private health insurance or Medicare, the company says.
Consumers may balk at the potential invasion of privacy. But, experts say, eye-tracking devices only “see” the area around the eyes in near-infrared, and use that to calculate the coordinates of the user’s gaze. They don’t save or transmit images, so they can’t be used for spying. A computer equipped with eye-tracking hardware knows what you type or what you click, similar to a computer equipped with a keyboard or mouse.
Eye-tracking technology has been around for decades, but the devices were complicated, said Werner Goertz, senior director at the market research firm Gartner Inc. Today, companies such as Tobii are selling technology that allows other companies to add eye-tracking capabilities to their own products, allowing startups in industries including health care, retail, automotive and consumer electronics to test it out. “You just buy it off the shelf and stick your own application on top of it,” said Mr. Goetz.
One Tobii customer, Atlanta-based ControlRad, says it has developed a system that uses eye-tracking hardware to help control X-ray scanners, reducing patient and doctor radiation exposure during surgery. Typically, when surgeons X-ray patients during procedures, they must constantly scan a region of the body with large doses of radiation to produce high-resolution images. ControlRad’s product uses low-dose radiation on the body, focusing the high-energy radiation only at the point where the doctor is looking. The company is seeking approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and hopes to release the system next year.
Medical schools are also using eye-tracking devices to help teach future doctors. At the German Heart Center in Berlin, instructors wear glasses equipped with eye-tracking cameras while they perform complicated procedures including heart-bypass surgeries. Students watching the operation on a monitor can see what the doctor is looking at, without stopping the procedure to gesture or point.
Other eye-tracking applications are used for diagnosis. The Israeli company NovaSight sells a vision-assessment system that requires patients wear LCD glasses and watch 20- to 60-second videos on an eye-tracking tablet. The test can identify vision impairments including myopia, or nearsightedness, as well as color blindness and contrast sensitivity, according to Moshe Barel, vice president of sales and marketing. NovaSight has signed an agreement with Essilor International, the French ophthalmic optics company, to sell the product to hospitals and vision clinics.
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NovaSight’s product could help address weaknesses of current vision screenings, which do not mimic real life, said Dr. Rajat Agrawal, an ophthalmologist and chief executive of the eye-health nonprofit Retina Global. “You sit in a room with controlled lighting and look at a chart at a fixed distance while your head is still,” he said. Watching videos on a tablet replicates a more natural, real-world activity and doesn’t require the user to self-report. “It could play a significant role in years ahead in terms of visual screening,” said Dr. Agrawal, who is not affiliated with NovaSight.
Researchers at Texas Tech University and the University of Massachusetts, Boston, have used eye-tracking headsets to study autism spectrum disorders in children. When most children look at another person’s face, their gaze tends to focus on the eyes and nose; autistic children’s gazes wander. The research could eventually lead to systems that allow doctors to identify neurological impairments in children who might otherwise be too young to diagnose.
The next step for eye-tracking systems may be the treatment of disease. NovaSight is testing hardware that it hopes will be able to cure amblyopia, better known as lazy eye. Standard treatments require patients to wear an eyepatch for months so their affected eye gets stronger with use. With NovaSight’s system, they watch a few minutes of videos every day on a tablet equipped with eye-tracking hardware. The videos are precisely blurred so the patient’s lazy eye has to compensate, according to the company. Mr. Barel said the system has passed a small clinical trial in Israel and will undergo a larger trial in the U.S. next year.
Mr. Goetz of Gartner expects more eye-tracking products to hit the market in 2020, thanks to the increased availability of low-cost hardware and basic technology that is safe and reliable. Meanwhile, Mr. Quinn remains an evangelist for his eye-tracking tablet. “I’m still growing and having amazing moments in my life, and I couldn’t do it without this technology,” he said.
On September 26th, 2019, NOD presented Darren Walker with the first annual Alan Reich Award, recognizing a leader who has demonstrated commitment and excellence in the area of disability inclusion. Mr. Walker’s selection was based on his stewardship of the Ford Foundation’s nascent disability inclusion investment program, and his co-creation, with Richard Besser of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, of the Presidents’ Council on Disability Inclusion in Philanthropy.
In this video tribute, Darren accepts the award and speaks to the importance of disability inclusion work and the Ford Foundation’s relationship with NOD
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court cleared the way Monday for blind people to sue Domino’s Pizza and other retailers if their websites are not accessible.
In a potentially far-reaching move, the justices turned down an appeal from Domino’s and let stand a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling holding that the Americans With Disabilities Act protects access not just to restaurants and stores but also to the websites and apps of those businesses.
Guillermo Robles, who is blind, filed suit in Los Angeles three years ago and complained he had been unable to order a pizza online because the Domino’s website lacked the software that would allow him to communicate. He cited the ADA, which guarantees to persons with a disability “full and equal enjoyment of the goods and services … of any place of public accommodations.”
Lawyers for Domino’s agreed the provision applied to its bricks-and-mortar pizza locations, but not its website.
Last year, however, the 9th Circuit ruled for Robles and said the law applied to its online services as well as the stores.
“The ADA mandates that places of public accommodation, like Domino’s, provide auxiliary aids and services to make visual materials available to individuals who are blind,” the appeals court said in January.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and business groups that said they represented 500,000 restaurants and 300,000 businesses joined in an appeal urging the high court to review the 9th Circuit’s decision. They complained of a “tsunami of litigation” and worried that judges nationwide would see the appeals court’s decision as “imposing a nationwide website-accessibility mandate.”
But without comment or dissent on Monday, the high court said it would not hear the case of Domino’s Pizza vs. Robles.
This is not a formal ruling upholding the 9th Circuit decision, and the justices could agree to take up the issue later if lower courts are divided. But for now, the court’s action strongly suggests that retailers will be required to make their websites accessible.
Joseph R. Manning Jr., a Newport Beach lawyer who represented Robles, said the high court made “the right call. There can be no debate that the blind and visually impaired require accessible websites and mobile apps to function on an equal footing in the modern world.”
Mark Whitley, president of Easterseals Southern California, praised the high court for “supporting the values … the ADA was built upon.”
Domino’s and the National Retail Federation issued statements saying they were disappointed in the court’s refusal to hear the case. The 9th Circuit sent the case back to a district judge in Los Angeles to decide whether Robles suffered discrimination.
“We look forward to presenting our case at the trial court. We also remain steadfast in our belief in the need for federal standards for everyone to follow in making their websites and mobile apps accessible,” Domino’s said its statement.
These employers are dedicated to disability inclusion and recognize the benefits of hiring workers with disabilities.
October 1, 2019 | Lily Martis, Monster contributor
While October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, unemployment for adults with disabilities is an epidemic in the workforce that’s seen all year, every year.
The unemployment rate for workers with disabilities in 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), was 8%—more than double that for those with no disability. While the unemployment rate for workers with disabilities has declined over the years—it was 14.5% in 2009, when the unemployment rate for persons with a disability was first reported by the BLS—there is still much more that needs to be done to help workers with disabilities find jobs.
Fortunately, some best-in-class employers are already leading the way in disability inclusion in the workplace. Every year, the National Organization on Disability (NOD) recognizes these top employers with a seal for not only leading the way in disability inclusion, but also for tapping into the many benefits that come with hiring talent with disabilities, which include high rates of productivity, strong dedication, and greater engagement at work.