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The Americans With Disabilities Act and Gift Cards

November 19, 2019

Over the last few years, restaurants, retailers and other businesses have been inundated with lawsuits regarding the accessibility of their websites and mobile applications and the need to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Now, they may have another issue to contend with: the requirement that store gift cards include Braille.

Between October 24 and November 1, visually impaired plaintiffs have filed class actions in the New York federal courts against several restaurants and retailers, including Walt Disney Company, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Hooters and McDonalds, claiming that their failure to provide gift cards which include Braille violates the ADA Title III, as well as New York State and City Human Rights Laws.

According to these lawsuits, plaintiffs allege that gift cards are a form of communication and, even though store and restaurant employees provide auxiliary aids and services, the assistance provided is not sufficient to make gift cards independently accessible. They argue that the failure to include Braille on gift cards denies the plaintiffs' equal access and enjoyment of the products and services offered by these stores and restaurants.

While these cases could create a headache for retailers in the United States, the viability of these claims is not yet clear, as plaintiffs will have to convince the court that gift cards are covered by the ADA, which generally speaking concerns "access" to a place of public accommodation. Though "access" does require effective communication to covered individuals, it is established law that this can be achieved through the use of auxiliary aids and services of the retailer's choosing.

Currently, restaurants are not required to provide menus in Braille, retailers are not required to provide price tags in Braille. However, if the plaintiffs are successful in arguing that the ADA provides them with protection based on the retailer's failure to provide Braille on gift cards, the decision could blur the lines regarding the limits of the ADA's scope.

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