Josh Basile had just completed his freshman year as a varsity tennis player at Skidmore College when he wandered into shallow water on Delaware’s Bethany Beach, boogie board in hand.
The next thing he knew, he was floating in the Atlantic, motionless. A wave had slammed his head into the ocean floor, leaving him paralyzed beneath the shoulders. Now a C4-5 quadriplegic, Basile requires a power wheelchair and assistive technology to live his life to the fullest.
“Sports were my life before my injury,” Basile told Sports Handle. “I was a college tennis player. I played every sport imaginable before my injury.”
Knowing he “had to find a way to get back out there” after his injury, he developed a set of devices that enable golfers with disabilities to play a specialized version of the sport, called Slingshot Golf, which values accuracy and advance calculations over brute physicality.
“I have a 2 handicap using the different devices,” said Basile. “I feel like it’s a live video game for me because there’s very little human error.”
When he’s not hitting the links, Basile occasionally likes to bet on sports, visiting various brick-and-mortar sportsbooks in Las Vegas and his home state of Maryland, among other locales.
“For the most part, they do a really good job making the floors accessible,” he said of the retail books. “They do a great job in Maryland. I love Vegas.”
One quibble: “It can get pretty loud, and I can’t wheel close enough to have a good conversation.”
But this is a minor inconvenience compared to the challenges Basile has encountered when he tries to use online sportsbooks to place his wagers.
“Being paralyzed below my shoulders, I’m very reliant on technology to access the world,” he explained. “I use an onscreen keyboard. DraftKings, I can’t access their menus. They haven’t built their coding properly for someone who uses an onscreen keyboard to get through their site. It sucks to be kind of stuck on a homepage and not being able to access the dropdown menus. I find this on other websites all the time.”
Basile also noted that he can’t use voice commands to enter critical personal information, like a credit card or bank account number.
“I have to wait for a friend or family member to tap in my answer at that point, which is never fun,” he said.
Entire internet could stand to improve
To be fair, Basile isn’t singling out DraftKings. His critique could be applied to virtually any online sportsbook — and the internet at large.
“Less than 3 percent of websites actually meet accessibility guidelines,” said Basile.
The U.S. Department of Justice recently issued guidance on the applicability of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) to government entities or businesses that are open to the public. Basile, who’s an attorney, could pursue a legal approach to compel sportsbooks to become more user-friendly for people with disabilities. But he says he “would never go that route.”
Rather, Basile is more interested in helping online sportsbooks and other websites voluntarily become more accessible through a pair of tools offered by his employer, accessiBe.
Specifically, companies can audit their websites to gauge how accessible they are to people with disabilities through a free service called accessScan. Or an operator can pay for a premium service, accessWidget, that, as Basile explains, “scans a website every 24 hours and finds all the areas where it’s not doing well and then creates a layered approach through A.I. technology to bring accessibility to that website.”
For example, a company can learn how to better tailor its online experience to people living with epilepsy, ADHD, or impaired vision and hearing.
“If there are flashing, blinking lights on a site, which a lot of sportsbooks have, it can trigger an epileptic event,” Basile noted. “People with disabilities, they’re the most brand-loyal community, because we don’t have as many places to choose from. When we are taken care of, we come back again and again as repeat customers.”
To this end, Basile noted, “Just last year, people with disabilities had spending power of over $500 billion. That’s a lot of dollars that are on the table to not be welcoming to. I love to be entertained. I love to have the same experience as everyone else, so please welcome me so I can make that next bet and have that next opportunity to have fun.”
Legal liability and ‘the right thing to do’
Sports Handle reached out to some half a dozen sportsbooks to see what, if anything, they had done to make their online experience more accessible to people with disabilities. The SuperBook was among two that responded, with Gordon Prouty, vice president of public relations and community affairs, saying, “Gaming regulation and compliance guidelines are constantly evolving, and as always, we’re continuing to monitor them and will make any adjustments that are necessary.”
DraftKings also responded by sharing a link to a page on its website that addresses accessibility — specifically for people with impaired vision or hearing.
“We are working to provide text alternatives, like voiceover, or text-to-speech, to help users who can’t fully experience our products due to visual disabilities,” reads the page, which also provides an email address for users to provide feedback specific to accessibility.
Despite the DOJ’s recent directive, establishing which online entities the ADA is applicable to is not entirely clear- cut.
“The threshold question on ADA, the courts have been divided about whether or not pure online businesses are subject to the ADA,” explained John Magliery, a commercial litigation partner at the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine who handles accessibility discrimination claims. “Back in 2012, the DOJ proposed a rule, then they withdrew the rule. And what’s happened is a lot of private plaintiffs have kind of filled the gap by bringing lawsuits. That’s how we’ve really kind of advanced online accessibility.
“The question the courts are struggling with is what is a public accommodation. The 9th Circuit has said that you have to be connected to a physical public accommodation. If you’re Domino’s Pizza, the app needs to be accessible because someone could walk into your store.”
However, he added, “Our trial court here in New York, the Southern District, has rejected that. They’ve said if it’s like a retail store, if it’s like a travel agent, if it’s like a library, then it needs to be accessible as well. Because you could be sued anywhere you’re doing business, the best approach is to be in compliance.
“The smart money is on making your website and app accessible because there certainly is exposure to potential liability if you don’t. And even if you don’t have [exposure to liability], it’s good for your customers and expands your customer base. Most companies would agree it’s the right thing to do.”