Automated, Tablet-Heavy Restaurant Sued For Being Inaccessible to the Blind

Not everybody is thrilled about our robotic future.

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Mar 27 2017, 3:00pm

Photo via Eatsa.

Eatsa, a fully automated San Francisco-based restaurant chain, serves an assortment of quinoa bowls with a twist—and that twist is that customers don't have to speak to, interact with, or even make eye contact with any other humans. All of the orders are placed either on touchscreens or through an iPhone app, and its signature quinoa bowls appear in an illuminated cubby, usually in three minutes or less. That's great news for those of us who love both efficiency and our robot overlords, but—according to a new lawsuit—it's discriminatory to the blind.

On Thursday, the American Council for the Blind and Michael Godino, a legally blind New York resident, filed a suit against the seven-location chain, alleging that the restaurant's kiosks violated civil-rights laws. According to the lawsuit, which was obtained by Recode, Eatsa has been accused of ignoring or disabling touchscreen features that would allow blind or vision-impaired customers to use them.

"Eatsa has configured its systems so that the [screen reader capability] is not usable on the iPad," Disability Rights Advocates attorney Rebecca Serbin told the website. "So the technology to make Eatsa accessible exists, but Eatsa just didn't care enough to include that in their design."

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Although there may be flaws or limitations to Eatsa's automated setup, the restaurant does have human employees that are available to help customers place their orders, if necessary. In fact, they're so prominent that many of the reviews of the chain—which has locations in California, New York and Washington, D.C.—have mentioned their presence.

"Many have come to know Eatsa's store as one with little human contact as possible. But you wouldn't guess it by how many people are eager to greet you at the door," a Motherboard review said. "Four to six Eatsa workers helped me get to a kiosk where I could order my own food and go get it myself."

A Forbes piece about the restaurant compared Eatsa's workers to those at the Apple Genius bar, "[floating] among customers to answer questions." And even the Washington Post mentioned a "concierge" that "[ushered] customers through ordering."

According to the lawsuit, though, that's not good enough: getting help from one of the attendants "denies blind customers the ability to independently access Eatsa restaurants."

In a statement to the press, Eatsa said that it was "surprised" by the lawsuit. A spokesperson for the restaurant said:

We are surprised by this action by DRA. We are strong supporters of the rights of the visually impaired and have served many visually impaired customers since we opened our first Eatsa in 2015. In fact, every Eatsa location is staffed with Hosts that provide personalized ordering and pickup assistance to visually impaired customers, should they desire additional assistance, and all of our technology is designed to be compatible with the appropriate assistance features..."

MUNCHIES has reached out to Eatsa for additional comment.