Does the ADA Require Drink Dispensers to Talk?

In April 2015, Mary West and Patricia Diamond visited a Moe’s Restaurant, where they attempted to use a “Freestyle” drink dispenser, which allows customers to select from over 100 different beverages using a touch-screen interface. Both women are blind, and neither could use the dispenser’s touch screen. They asked for assistance from restaurant employees, but were ultimately assisted by another customer instead. Eleven days later, they filed a class action lawsuit in the Southern District of New York against the franchisee that owned the restaurant, claiming that it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA,” “the Act”) by using machines that lacked “adaptive features,” such as a screen reader with audio descriptions and tactilely discernible control buttons that enable blind customers to use the dispensers independently.

In December 2015, siding with the restaurant, Judge William Pauley III dismissed the action. Understanding his reasons—and why his decision is important—requires a short review of the “auxiliary aids” standard of the ADA.