Pete Freitag Pete Freitag

Target Sued over Accessibility

Updated on December 07, 2023
By Pete Freitag

This is pretty big news for web developers. Most of us are aware of Section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act that requires all government related web site to make all content accessible to people with disabilities. Now there is legal precedent to hold a corporation liable for failure to make their web site accessible to persons with a disability (National Federation of the Blind VS Target Corp class action suit).

The court held: "the 'ordinary meaning' of the ADA's prohibition against discrimination in the enjoyment of goods, services, facilities or privileges, is that whatever goods or services the place provides, it cannot discriminate on the basis of disability in providing enjoyment of those goods and services." The court thus rejected Target's argument that only its physical store locations were covered by the civil rights laws, ruling instead that all services provided by Target, including its Web site, must be accessible to persons with disabilities.

I would expect that after this victory the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) will be more aggressive in persuing companies that fail to make thier web sites accessible.

The other thing that surprises me is that Target was unwilling to negotiate with the NFB, and refused to make their site accessible.

"We tried to convince Target that it should do the right thing and make its website accessible through negotiations," said Dr. Maurer. "It is unfortunate that Target took the position that it does not have to take the rights of the blind into account. The ruling in this case puts Target and other companies on notice that the blind cannot be treated like second class citizens on the Internet or in any other sphere."

Here's a link to article, which no longer works.

accessibility section508 target nfb legal law

Target Sued over Accessibility was first published on September 11, 2006.

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What a crock. What's next? Is the NFB going to sue all the companies that allow shopping by catalog because the catalogs aren't printed in braille? I'm sure that if Target were loosing enough sales because of the accessibility of their website, they would change it.

If it were my website, I'd pull all of the shopping capability and make sure to state why it was pulled and who caused it, including the judge.

Or maybe just give the NFB the opportunity to pay for the modifications to the site on behalf of their membership.
by Mike Rankin on 09/11/2006 at 11:50:26 AM UTC
Mike, according to the Wikipedia 1.3 million americans are legally blind. That's less than 1% of the population, but additionally 10% of the population is color blind, even more have poor vision.

I think it is very likley that Target is loosing far more money than it would take to fix this problem. Additionally you tend to get more search engine traffic when you make your site accessible (because your adding more text descriptions of things).

I would hope that money wouldn't be the only reason someone would make their website accessible.
by Pete Freitag on 09/11/2006 at 12:06:11 PM UTC
I'm sure that money is the primary reason the site exists at all.

If Target want's to make their site accessible, that's their business. It's the fact that a court feels that it needs to impose this requirement on a single company in a single case that rubs me the wrong way.

If you want to change the law, change the law. Don't use the courts to legislate. It's just not fair. You know that Target's competitors will now wait until they face their own lawsuit before they do anything because they currently have a (however small) competitive advantage imposed by the court. When their suit comes, they'll just settle to avoid the cost of the trial, so they will still come out slightly ahead of Target.

Does the catalog sales analogy hold? or is there something wrong with that comparison?
by Mike Rankin on 09/11/2006 at 12:24:04 PM UTC
My comments about this subject had nothing to do with my opinion about web site accessibility and everything to do with a special interest group abusing the US court system to impose their will unevenly and heavy handedly on a single corporate victim.

I have both a speech impaired and a deaf family member. I also volunteer for a professional interpreter organization in my area and have been managing their web site for about 7 years, gratis.

While this decision might make a few of us feel better in the short run, it is, in my opinion, a detriment for our society as a whole.

One of my law professors in college had a saying that stuck with me through the years. It went something like: In matters of law, think with your head and not with your heart. Your heart will always betray you.
by Mike Rankin on 09/29/2006 at 11:52:47 AM UTC