Target Sued over Accessibility

September 11, 2006

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.

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3 people found this page useful, what do you think?


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.
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.
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?
I agree that this type of judicial decision sets a dangerous precedent. Today it is the NFB - tomorrow it is a religious group that targets another large company because their Web site uses words that they list as offensive in their official religious documents. Where does it stop? The marketplace already has efficient mechanisms in place to handle these types of issues. NFB can start an education campaign to alert people to its plight, and why it is important to them. If they convince enough people, then Target would hear from those folks and see them shopping less at Target. But NFB knows that this is not going to work - most people won't be convinced that Target is doing anything wrong, for the NFB folks can simply shop at Wal-Mart, K-Mart or any other "mart". Again, not a good decision for business, the economy or the U.S.
Mike: Perhaps you will feel differently about accessibility when you or someone close to you acquires one. It does not happen only to ?them?. Each of us is one accident away from a disability. Target has lost my business and respect.
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.
Kind of ironic, but the font sizes on this page aren't section 508 compliant... they're too small. I wonder how long until a lawsuit brews? Just to add my opinion, I feel bad that people are blind or have disabilities that prevent them from doing certain tasks as others, but then again, that is why it is called a disability. I also know that this is a free country, and that includes free commerce. Target should be able to build and use their website as they see fit... regardless of who they offend, how they profit, or how they gain or lose money. If they're smart, they'll try to please everyone. But it should be up to them, not the courts to decide. After all, it's their business at stake. This might be different if it were a government entity, but Target is not... My guess is that Target would appeal this ruling, but it might make them look bad, so they're probably just going to make the necessary changes and go about their business. Victory for the blind... defeat for everyone else who now has to put up with a gazillion underlined links, oversized fonts, non-color coded navigations and layouts, and goofy audio sound confirmation bites...
Well, as a web developer, I think this is wrong, it should be the companies choice to build in extra functionality for people with disabilities(as depends on the website too). I just worry that someone is going to try to push laws that all websites with have to make sure their content is able to be accessed by people with disabilities. I just don't think the companies should have to put in a lot more time(Im not saying they should put in no time) to make sure people with disabilities can access the content when they know that it is not going to effect their business. Like I am building a website for a gaming company, I know that blind people are not going to be coming here(I mean you really can't play todays video games blind) so why should I put make sure that blind people can see the content when i know it will not help us? I also don't think it is fair to make the website not look as good as it can for the 99% of the people that are not blind for the 1% of people who are(or make developer spend twice the time making and maintaining 2 complete separate sites. Not for website of big companies like bestbuy, target, walmart, etc... this is a bit of a different story because a lot of people, blind or not, can use their products. As long as not tries to make the entire web like this, I am fine with it.
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