A Solution to Drive-Through Lawsuits at the Drive-Thru

Submitted by Paul Simmons on Thu, 10/10/2019

There are many news reports about discrimination at restaurant drive-thru windows. As a Deaf person, I avoid using the drive-thru window at fast food restaurants because of the inaccessibility. Here’s a possible solution: upgrade the ordering mechanism at the drive-thru.

Let’s take a step back and look at what the ADA says about accessibility for diners with disabilities. There is currently a fact sheet on Food Service: Accommodating Diners with Disabilities. This fact sheet explains how to ensure that food services are accessible for everyone. There are a variety of ways that services could be made accessible for guests with disabilities. However, there is nothing about serving guests with communication disabilities.

Personally, I applaud McDonald’s for rolling out Touch Screen Kiosks inside their restaurants. I read that they plan to add self-serve kiosks to 1,000 of their stores every quarter for the next two years.

Interactive touchscreens are becoming a key player in the food service world. Kiosks are accessibility for people with communication disabilities. Kiosks are also helpful for businesses as they simplify the ordering process. Despite its advantages to the consumer and business alike, kiosks still need to be ADA complaint. Kiosks needs to be usable by all customers, no matter what their physical challenges may be. Often meeting that standard is easier said than done.

The Access Board has published guidelines for Accessible Elements And Spaces: Scope And Technical Requirements. They include:

  • In general, devices with a display screen shall be speech-output enabled for full and independent use by individuals with vision impairments.
  • Speech output shall be provided for all information displayed on-screen.
  • Where speech output is required, braille instructions for initiating the speech mode of operation shall be provided.
  • Devices that deliver sound, including required speech output, shall provide volume control and output amplification.
  • At least one mode of operation shall be operable with one hand and shall not require tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist. The force required to activate operable parts shall be 5 pounds (22.2 N) maximum.

As an ADA information Specialist with the Rocky Mountain ADA Center, I think of ways to make public spaces accessible. There is an overlooked solution for fast-food restaurants. Drive-thru ordering systems are often outdated and not interactive. This would be useful for people with hearing and speech disabilities. There have been many incidents of discrimination at popular fast-food restaurants. Here are a few examples below starting with the most recent:

A possible solution for fast food businesses would be to upgrade their ordering mechanism. They could replace their ancient ordering mechanisms with interactive versions. Such newer versions should meet the ADA Accessibility requirement. The advantages are that:

    • Speech and hearing disabled customers will experience equal accessibility; and
    • The business will win by having a more streamlined ordering system. They will avoid tricky situations and possible lawsuits for denial of service and discrimination.

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