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Retailers compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act

Photo by Joe Raedle

The Americans with Disabilities Act, better known as ADA, is one of America's most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation that guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life; to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, among others.

Taking that into account, it is worth to mention that retailers are subject to that legislation. For that reason, corporate store designers not only consider aesthetics aspects of a store but also, compliance with ADA within its designs. In the same way, visual merchandising directors and store management should promote and ensure the maintenance of accessible features in order to comply with the legislation. According to the United States Department of Justice-Civil Rights Division, some of the actions retailers should take are:

  • Ensure the full width minimum of three 3 feet of an entire accessible routes into and through the business are clear of obstacles and trip hazards;
  • Verify all objects that hang over the aisles (e.g., seasonal lighting, display merchandise) are 80 inches or more above the routes;
  • Plan all routes so that any hanging or mounted displays, wall-mounted shelving, lighting, or decorations provide required head clearance and cane detection for customers who are blind or have low vision;
  • Observe the accessible checkout aisles and sales counters are staffed during all business hours;
  • Ensure, the full length (minimum 3 feet) of the lowered counters of the accessible checkout aisles and sales counters are clear of merchandise and equipment;
  • Inform all employees about the business's accessible features and accessible customer service practices.

As mentioned before, these recommendations are a few from the requirement list. Every retailer is responsible to take the necessary actions in order to not only be in compliance with ADA, but, to serve more than fifty millions customers with disabilities.

Point-of-sales and ADA compliance

Recently, the United States Department of Justice filed a Statement of Interest to clarify that the effective communication requirements of the ADA do apply to the provision of touch-screen point-of-sale devices used to purchase goods and services in places of public accommodations so that individuals who are blind may independently enter their private personal identification number when making an in-store purchase using a debit card.

The Statement of Interest is in regards of a complaint David New filed against Lucky Brand Jeans. In January 2014, Mr. New, who is blind, tried to purchase some items using his debit card at a Lucky Brand Jeans store. According to the complaint, Lucky Brand Jeans stores have point-of-sale (“POS”) devices that allow customers to swipe a debit or credit card to complete a purchase. Mr. New alleges that the POS devices at Lucky Brand Jeans stores, have touch screen displays that customers must use to key in their personal identification numbers (“PIN”) when making a debit card transaction. Because individuals who are blind are unable to independently use these devices, they must seek the assistance of a third party to whom they must divulge their confidential PIN, or forego using a debit card altogether.

Lucky Brand argues that its treatment of Mr. New complies with the ADA. First, Lucky Brand posits that the title III regulation and the ADA Standards for Accessible Design (“ADA Standards”) contain no specific requirement mandating that POS devices have tactile key pads. Second, Lucky Brand argues that because Mr. New can purchase items using cash, credit, or by processing their debit card as a credit card, there was no discrimination under the ADA.

According to the Statement of Interest, Lucky Brand is wrong and its focus on the POS device itself misconstrues the allegations of the complaint and the requirements of the ADA. The fact that POS devices are not specifically addressed in the current title III regulation and the ADA Standards does not change Lucky Brand’s obligations under the ADA. And when other methods exist that would allow blind customers to independently access the debit payment option, providing them only the opportunity to complete their purchase by either divulging their PIN to a third party or paying with another payment method does not meet Lucky Brand’s effective communication obligations.