Fast food restaurants face ADA lawsuits over inaccessible drive-thrus

Illustration for article titled Fast food restaurants face ADA lawsuits over inaccessible drive-thrus
Photo: jdornoff (iStock)

I tried to walk through a McDonald’s drive-thru once. It was late at night. I was feeling silly. I wanted to see if I could do it. In the end, I got food, and also a strict warning never to walk through a drive-thru again. It was like playing in traffic, I was told. Cars couldn’t see me. I was a lawsuit waiting to happen.

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Now, as it happens, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Taco Bell are all facing lawsuits from people who would prefer to walk through drive-thrus. This isn’t because they’re doing it on a lark like I did. It’s because they’re visually impaired and can’t drive and, late at night, the restaurants’ dining rooms are closed and the drive-thru is the only way to get food. (Deaf customers have their own trouble with drive-thrus.)

“Despite being accessible to the general public, Taco Bell drive-thrus lack any meaningful accommodation for visually-impaired individuals who are unable to operate motor vehicles,” argued the plaintiffs in a California class-action lawsuit against Taco Bell.

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A similar suit against Wendy’s notes that visually impaired customers can’t read the drive-thru menu, either, without the assistance of a sighted companion or driver. This is, the plaintiffs claim, a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The plaintiffs in both the Taco Bell and Wendy’s cases are being represented by the same attorneys. They also brought the suit against McDonald’s; in that case, McDonald’s called for the charges to be dismissed on grounds that the McDonald’s doesn’t qualify as a restaurant operator under the ADA and that the plaintiff should have filed suit against the franchise owner. It also claimed that the plaintiff’s two suggestions—that McDonald’s offer free delivery through UberEats or that it provide him with a special phone number and access code to order food that he could pick up in person—were too expensive and difficult for the restaurant to implement.

Come on fast food, whatever happened to “special orders don’t upset us”?

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

this seems like a pretty simple fix:

1. add a button to the order box for walkups to order (it would also set a flag in the system that this order is a walkup and not a car)

2. improve lighting in the drive thru to allow cars to better see pedestrians.

3. add braille to the order box that says “To Order Hit The button to the right of this message to speak with an order taker.”

also what’s really annoying is when they get shitty about bicycles in the drive through, I used to bike to work and would be heading home at 11PM+ at night and try to get fast food only to be told bikes were not allowed in the drive thru. (one time I was in line behind a motorcycle and asked why it made a difference that his had an engine and got no response.)