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Site Unseen: Visually Impaired Customers

Jan 22, 2020

Set aside pesky third-party deliver issues and labor problems for a minute — and instead focus on your drive-thru. Some people may be walking up to it, and likely being shoed away.

And why not? No doubt you rightly prohibit people from standing where cars are constantly moving. Usually, many cars.

But what about late at night when traffic is light and the restaurant’s doors are locked — and the hungry customer is visually-impaired, i.e., they cannot drive a vehicle to the restaurant?

Does your drive-thru policy change to accommodate them? We doubt it.

The answer to that question is the subject of two Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits filed last month in U.S. District Courts for the Northern District of California on behalf of eight sight-impaired customers who attempted to make late-night drive-thru orders at Taco Bell and Wendy’s International units, reports classaction.org. They claim the fast-feeders prohibit them and other visually impaired customers from ordering food and beverages after the restaurants’ dining-rooms are closed and their doors locked. You can read the complaints here and here.

From both cases: By failing to make its restaurants accessible to Plaintiffs and class members, Taco Bell [and Wendy’s are] violating basic equal access requirements under federal law. Congress provided a clear and national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities when it enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act. This includes removing barriers to full integration, independent living, and equal opportunity for persons with disabilities, including those barriers created by drive-thru restaurants and other public accommodations that are inaccessible to blind and visually impaired persons.

To be sure, today’s visually impaired plaintiffs are not arguing for walk-up drive-thru privileges. They instead want a workable solution allowing them to order and receive food when they want it.

From both cases: Taco Bell [and Wendy’s International] must furnish auxiliary aids or services or modify their policies and procedures to enable blind individuals to equally and independently benefit from Taco Bell services unless doing so would result in a fundamental alteration or undue burden.

These lawsuits follow a similar one filed three years ago in which a visually impaired McDonald’s customer named Scott MaGee claimed the burger giant violated similar ADA provisions. All three suits were filed by the same New Orleans-based firm, Beaumont Costales LLC, which specializes in plaintiff’s class-action litigation.

McDonald’s, which requested an Illinois federal court grant it summary judgment, maintains the issue is between the customer and the franchisee — not the corporation. The court didn’t agree. So, incredibly, the case rolls on.

From the case: Plaintiff reports that on August 28, 2019 the parties attended a private mediation and the mediation was unsuccessful. The parties’ negotiations are at an impasse.

That may be the future, too, for Taco Bell and Wendy’s if neither can get its case dismissed.

Finally, even if a suitable solution is found another issue looms: Visually impaired customers and accessibility to a restaurant’s website. Read this article and weep.

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