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A Robo-Restaurant With No Servers Shuns The Blind, Lawsuit Claims

The humans forgot to make automated restaurant Eatsa accessible to the blind, lawsuit claims.

Posted on March 24, 2017, at 3:07 p.m. ET


Eatsa — the futuristic, eerily-quiet quinoa restaurant that lets you bypass human interaction by ordering on touchscreens and picking up your food from a locker — violates the civil rights of blind people, a new lawsuit claims.

The restaurant says it helps customers "to get you in and out fast” by cutting away layers of human contact, and requires customers to order via a mobile app or in-store tablet. A screen then tells them which locker their food will be delivered to; the window of the locker changes color once the order is ready.

"This entire process is silent, and all required information is displayed visually. There are no available audio features on the kiosks, the display screen, or the food pick-up cubbies," according to the complaint, filed by Disability Rights Advocates and the American Council of the Blind in New York. It describes Eatsa’s design as "entirely inaccessible to blind customers."

The council said the in-store iPads have “VoiceOver” technology that could likely be configured to provide audio for blind customers, but "Eatsa’s failure to provide full and equal access to the benefits of its self-service restaurants violates Title III of theAmericans with Disabilities Act and the New York City Human Rights Law."

While Eatsa is on the far end of the curve, a growing number of major restaurant chains — including McDonald's, Taco Bell, and Panera, are allowing customers to punch in orders themselves through in-store kiosks or apps. The shift frees up employees who normally work the cash register to handle other tasks in the restaurant — an important change as minimum wage increases across the country bump up labor costs.

But as this lawsuit shows, there are other factors to think through as fast food service is redesigned.

“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,” said Kim Charlson, President of the American Council of the Blind, in a press release.

Eatsa said in an emailed statement that every location "is staffed with Hosts that provide personalized ordering and pickup assistance to visually impaired customers" and its technology is "designed to be compatible with the appropriate assistance features." "We regret that the DRA did not spend time with eatsa's staff before taking legal action," the company said.

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A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.