Disability Rights Advocates files lawsuit against Eatsa alleging inaccessibility for visually impaired

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Disability Rights Advocates, a nonprofit disability rights legal center, has filed a federal lawsuit against Eatsa, a restaurant chain with locations across the countryincluding in Berkeley — alleging that the company’s ordering process is not accessible to visually impaired individuals.

Eatsa does not employ waiters or cashiers, according to a press release issued March 23 by Disability Rights Advocates. Rebecca Serbin, an attorney at Disability Rights Advocates, said that instead, Eatsa features iPad devices through which customers order their food. Serbin alleged that although iPad devices usually have built-in screen reader technology that translates content on iPad screens to audio for blind users, this function is not “turned on” at Eatsa kiosks.

“The issue is not that Eatsa doesn’t have this technology. … They’re using technology that could be accessible, but they have configured it in such a way that it’s not,” Serbin said.

According to Serbin, the inaccessibility of the ordering system allegedly violates the Americans With Disabilities Act, a law that prevents discrimination against and ensures equal opportunity for employed individuals with disabilities, according to the law’s text.

The Eatsa team said it is “surprised” by the action taken by Disability Rights Advocates, according to an email statement sent by the Eatsa team. The statement said Eatsa is a strong supporter of the rights of the visually impaired and has served visually impaired customers since the first Eatsa opened in 2015. The email added that the technology’s levels of accessibility were not fully understood by Disability Rights Advocates and that the Eatsa team “(looks) forward to working towards this amicably.”

“Every Eatsa location is staffed with Hosts that provide personalized ordering and pickup assistance to visually impaired customers, should they desire additional assistance, and all of our technology is designed to be compatible with the appropriate assistance features,” the email said.

Karen Nielson, the director of the campus Disabled Students’ Program, or DSP, said she finds it disappointing that an establishment that uses progressive technology may allegedly fail to consider the needs of people with disabilities.

“It does highlight the need to always consider access first in designing creative products and services,” Nielson said in an email. “There are some simple technology solutions that would likely allow for access for most people.

Campus freshman Chanel Shum, who has ordered food from Eatsa in the past, said she believes there is no excuse for Eatsa to be inaccessible to students with disabilities. She alleged that although Eatsa might not have excluded individuals with disabilities purposefully, it is not too late for it to accept feedback on how to improve.

“I think it’s only the right thing to do, and I hope that that’s the direction Eatsa moves forward in,” Shum said. “While such change may require time and effort, it is very much worth investing in to guarantee (its) food can be enjoyed by all.”

Contact Ishira Shrivatsa at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @i_shrivatsa.