New York, N.Y. — Eatsa, a chain of eateries touted as the “restaurant of the future,” has arrived in New York City with two Manhattan locations. Yet its high-tech ordering and food pick-up process has failed to include existing, readily available usability features for blind and low-vision people, in violation of civil rights law. Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a national nonprofit legal center, filed a class action federal lawsuit today with plaintiffs the American Council of the Blind and Michael Godino, a New York resident who is legally blind and cannot access Eatsa independently, representing the class.
Eatsa employs no waiters or cashiers. Instead, patrons order their Eatsa meals through a phone app or at one of a number of in-store ordering kiosks. These kiosks consist of Apple iPad devices mounted and framed on a stand. When the food is ready, the customer’s name appears on a screen along with a number. The number directs the customer to a cubby where they can retrieve their food. The entire process is silent.
While tablets can easily provide assistive technology that make text accessible to blind and low-vision users with a few taps, these kiosks do not. Strikingly, the audio jacks and home buttons required for accessible options are covered by a frame and no tactile features exist on the kiosks. Moreover, Eatsa’s phone app is also incompatible with screen-reader technology, and the food pickup process has no audible or tactile cues. While Eatsa’s kiosks contain an option to request assistance from an employee, this feature, like every other feature on the kiosk, is inaccessible to blind customers.
Eatsa is a growing national chain that has received national attention for revolutionizing automated, self-service technology in the food industry. It was recently founded by San Francisco branding executives Scott Drummond and Tim Young, and funded by David Friedberg, a former Google and Monsanto executive, who sold his farming insurance startup for $1 billion in 2013.
“Sophisticated business titans should be well-versed in laws related to accessibility prior to launching new business ventures,” stated Michelle Caiola, director of litigation at DRA’s New York office. “The Americans with Disabilities Act’s purpose is to ensure equal and independent access for all, including those who are blind, and it has been the law of the land for decades.”
Plaintiff Michael Godino, a New Yorker who is legally blind, was recently unable to access Eatsa without sighted assistance. “It’s frustrating because the technology to make the app and iPads accessible already exists,” he explained. “Eatsa just did not care enough to include this technology in their design.”
Kim Charlson, president of the American Council of the Blind, said, “Technology has had a major positive impact on improving the inclusion of blind people. Eatsa’s concept is all about the power of technology, but the company did not think to take the added steps to make it accessible for its blind customers.”
The federal lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of New York, seeks an injunction against Eatsa’s further discrimination of persons with disabilities and a comprehensive plan to provide blind patrons independent access to Eatsa restaurants.
A copy of the complaint is available at https://dralegal.org/press/eatsa-restaurant-future-excludes-blind-customers/.