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.

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.)

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“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.

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”?

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About the author

Aimee Levitt

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.