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Accessibility and Usability Forum

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Federal Judge Sustains Discrimination Claims Against Target.com website
Legal Precedent Set for Web Accessibility

 6:46 am on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)


A federal district court judge ruled yesterday that a retailer may be sued if its website is inaccessible to the blind. [...] The suit charges that Target's website [...] is inaccessible to the blind, and therefore violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)[...]. Target asked the court to dismiss the action by arguing that no law requires Target to make its website accessible. The Court denied Target's motion to dismiss and held that the federal and state civil rights laws do apply to a website such as target.com.



 10:26 am on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

Earlier discussion: Blind Student Sues Site Owner Claiming Civil-Rights Violations Over Alt Text [webmasterworld.com].

I see this is a significant first ruling, even if the case is far from over. It makes it quite clear that website owners have a direct responsibility to consider accessibility when creating their sites.


 10:49 am on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

This is a Moronic first ruling that will get overturned in a heartbeat.......what worries me is the people who appointed this idiot of a Judge!


 10:52 am on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

Say I made a hobby website, very badly designed - Does this mean someone could sue me if it was not accessible?


 11:25 am on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

The Court denied Target's motion to dismiss and held that the federal and state civil rights laws do apply to a website such as target.com

if this isn't paraphrased from the judgment, then these actual words "to a website such as target.com" means that any large ecommerce website is possibly the next one on the list - if it isn't accessible.

In my opinion, if the revenues of an ecommerce site are important, it's the site's ownwer legal responsability to make it accessible as they would their brick and mortar store.

I hope the ruling doesn't get overtturned, it's not as if making a website accessible would cost as much as making your store accessible (if it was built properly)


 11:47 am on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

I completely agree with this ruling, if you have a commercial website doing busines on the internet you are as responsible as any business with having all not just the ones that can see and hear but all whom may come to your business full access to it.

If this is an issue maybe you need to open a public business and try it, what makes the internet any different and your business.

Personal sites are not affected Govt. and commercial sites are.

le_gber well said.


 12:03 pm on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

There is often value to be gained by reading the language of the lawsuit pleadings. Below are the paragraphs from the plaintiff's amended complaint setting forth the plantiff's specific allegations of wrongdoing, i.e., acts or failure to act that violate existing law.

I suggest you read these paragraphs and consider whether your website has the same issues.

25. Target denies the blind access to goods, services and information made available through Target.com by preventing them from freely navigating Target.com.

26. The Internet has become a significant source of information, for conducting business and for doing everyday activities such as shopping, banking, etc., for sighted and blind persons.

27. The blind access websites by using keyboards in conjunction with screen-reading software which vocalizes visual information on a computer screen. Except for a blind person whose residual vision is still sufficient to use magnification, screen access software provides the only method by which a blind person can independently access the Internet. Unless websites are designed to allow for use in this manner, blind persons are unable to fully access Internet websites and the information, products and services contained therein.

28. There are well-established guidelines for making websites accessible to blind people. These guidelines have been in place for at least several years and have been followed successfully by other large business entities in making their websites accessible. The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), a project of the World Wide Web Consortium which is the
leading standards organization of the Web, has developed guidelines for website accessibility.
The federal government has also promulgated website accessibility standards under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. These guidelines are readily available via the Internet, so that a business designing a website can easily access them. These guidelines recommend several basic components for making websites accessible, including, but not limited to: adding invisible alttext to graphics; ensuring that all functions can be performed using a keyboard and not just a mouse; ensuring that image maps are accessible, and adding headings so that blind people can easily navigate the site. Without these very basic components a website will be inaccessible to a blind person using a screen reader.

29. Target.com contains access barriers that prevent free and full use by blind persons using keyboards and screen reading software. These barriers are pervasive and include, but are not limited to: lack of alt-text on graphics, inaccessible image maps, the lack of adequate prompting and labeling; the denial of keyboard access; and the requirement that transactions be performed solely with a mouse.

30. Alternative text (“Alt-text”) is invisible code embedded beneath a graphical image on a website. Web accessibility requires that alt-text be coded with each picture so that a screen reader can speak the alternative text while a sighted user sees the picture. Alt-text does not change the visual presentation except that it appears as a text pop-up when the mouse moves
over the picture. There are many important pictures on Target.com that lack a text equivalent.
The lack of Alt-text on these graphics prevents screen readers from accurately vocalizing a
description of the graphics. (Screen readers detect and vocalize Alt-text to provide a description
of the image to a blind computer user.) As a result, blind Target customers are unable to
determine what is on the website, browse the site, look for Target locations, investigate Target
programs and specials, and/or make any purchases.

31. Similarly, Target.com lacks accessible image maps. An image map is a function
that combines multiple words and links into one single image. Visual details on this single
image highlight different “hot spots,” which, when clicked on, allow the user to jump to many
different destinations within the website. For an image map to be accessible, it must contain Alttext
for the various “hot spots.” The image maps on Target.com do not contain adequate Alt-text
and are therefore inaccessible.

32. Target.com also lacks prompting information and accommodations necessary to
allow blind shoppers who use screen readers to locate and accurately fill-out online forms. On a
shopping site such as Target.com, these forms include search fields to locate products, fields that
specify the number of items desired, and fields used to fill-out personal information, including
address and credit card information. Due to the lack of adequate labeling, blind customers
cannot easily make purchases or inquiries as to Target’s products or programs, nor can they enter
their personal identification and financial information with confidence and security.

33. The lack of navigation links on Target.com makes attempting to navigate through
Target.com even more time consuming and confusing for blind consumers

34. Target.com requires the use of a mouse to complete a transaction. Yet, it is a
fundamental tenet of web accessibility that for a web page to be accessible to blind people, it
must be possible for the user to interact with the page using only the keyboard. Indeed, blind
users cannot use a mouse because manipulating the mouse is a visual activity of moving the
mouse pointer from one visual spot on the page to another. Thus, Target.com’s inaccessible
design, which requires the use of a mouse to complete a transaction, denies blind Target
customers the ability to independently make purchases on Target.com.


 12:24 pm on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

Wow, this will change the net up quite a bit. If this suit passes, many corporate sites will have to redo their entire site so they will not get sued.


 12:27 pm on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

--- who use screen readers to locate and accurately fill-out online forms. ---

as well as SPAM BOTS


 12:43 pm on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

So just how do you enable a website so that a purchase can be completed w/o a mouse? (I can see Amazon scrambling for the patent right now)


 12:56 pm on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

While I can understand this person's hardship in navigating the website, this person still does have options. They have other sales channels they can use to shop at Target.

If I'm hearing impaired can I sue radio stations? What about Target's television ads? They rarely use words and often just have people jumping around or dancing.

How about the poor? Are they being denied access because the Internet is not fee?

Where does it end?


 1:17 pm on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

I have to say I would love to see this ruling get overturned quickly. I agree that accessibility is a good thing, but there are limits to everything. The thing about this ruling that I wonder about is, how accessible is accessible enough? My sites are fairly accessible, but I'm not sure they're totally accessible.

Well, I don't use image maps and I use alt text most of the time, and my sites can be (cumbersomely) operated with the keyboard. So it looks like I have my bases covered as far as the complaints against Target are concerned. But what happens when, based on this precedent, someone sues a company for not having a high contrast stylesheet available on their website, or any of the many other little things that could be brought up?

I know first-hand of hundreds of small businesses that could be put out of business by this ruling. These are family-owned businesses, for the most part, and many of them are only supplementary to outside employment. There's no way most of these people could afford to have their websites overhauled for accessibility. So by all means, let's put them out of business so nobody gets to have the truly great resources many of these businesses produce...


 1:25 pm on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

To truly understand the decision, you have to read through Webwork's post as well as the American with Disabilities Act. This was more or less a formality, and the web will have to adjust much like telecommunications industry had to in the early 90's. For those who are upset with this, it will just become a part of running a business online.

My biggest issue with the decision is the fact we really don't have a set of standards in place. We will most likely see a group of professional plaintiffs in the coming years push the envelope on what is discrimination and what isn't. My fear is that it will be pushed so far that it hurts small business online and sets a higher barrier of entry.

What other forms of discrimination will come next is the question we should be asking and preparing for online. Will those with carpal tunnel be discriminated from because they can't scroll down on your site, click a mouse, or type in their credit card number?


 1:26 pm on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

My take on this thread was initially along the same lines as most others, who posted before me. I wondered how on earth a blind person could access most websites.

Webwork's posting of the details of the plaintiff's complaint was very helpful to me and a real eye-opener on the issues of blind people using the Internet. It seems like what's being asked for by the plaintiff is that website developers take the time to be sure that a mouse is not required to use their websites.

Is that too much to ask? The comparison of making radio broadcasts accessible to the deaf is interesting. I don't think it's valid because radio is exclusively audio in nature, unlike television, which is both audio and visual. Accomodations for the deaf to watch TV are made in the form of captioning.

Does the government have the authority to dictate website design standards? That's a tough one... I personally favor software the can be operated by the keyboard alone, but I wonder if the fault in this case lies with Target or with the maker of the reader software?

If the outcome of this case is that it raises awareness on the part of developers to help handicapped users, then that's a good thing. If the outcome is a big effort by government to police the Internet then I will not be happy. I wonder how it was decided that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to Internet commerce sites.


 1:30 pm on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

I'm wondering how this allows for current needs for e.g. a CAPTCHA test. Current implmentations typically use the fact that people are much better a character recognition than the software can be made.

So we'll need to find another test. But then those not hearing all to well can sue, or those with a below par IQ, or ...
or ...

And there's plenty of stuff you want/need CAPTCHA for. If giving an alternative (like call me and I'll let you through) is not good enough...


 1:33 pm on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

I have to agree with surfin2u on this one. I figure if the only thing that needs to be done is to enable mouseless navigation, I don't think that is too much too ask.

I would love to learn more about the screen vocalization software and how it works with HTML in order to really form a solid opinion.

The question is, how will this change general coding standards? For example, many things cannot be read in Javascript, will we have to curb our use of this language?

Maybe there should be a .blind domain alternative site for these people to go to...


 1:37 pm on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

Some responses to this post seem to be implying this is a another case of "Activist Judges Gone Wild." The judge did not write any laws from the bench here.

It's clear that the Americans with Disabilities grants the blind the right to access to retail spaces. This ruling simply affirms that e-commerce websites are included in the definition of retail space.


 1:40 pm on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

This ruling simply affirms that e-commerce websites are included in the definition of retail space.

But that goes against a 2002 federal ruling that stated that virtual places did not apply to the ADA.


 1:57 pm on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

If I'm hearing impaired can I sue radio stations?

There is simply no comparison between a purely auditory medium and the web. The text quoted by Webwork is a good summary of the complaint. It is important to understand that the web is overwhelmingly a text-based environment, and as such is inherently accessible because the data can be displayed on a screen, resized, displayed in different colors, read out by a screenreader or displayed on a braille device. Problems occur when you take that accessible information and present it in a way which reduces its accessibility.

The lawsuit didn't come about because the site was a bit difficult to use, but because the way it was built actively discriminated against blind users by failing to cater for "very basic components" - alternative text for images and - to quote - "the denial of keyboard access". This is active discrimination, not passive inaction.

The legislation doesn't mean that you have to switch to a 100% valid text-only table-free big text high contrast javascript-free site. Is it too much to ask a large company with a professionally-developed website to make a reasonable attempt to retain basic accessibility?

This is an important step, an excellent decision, and I hope the case goes forward and the case for website accessibility wins in the long term.

[edited by: encyclo at 4:18 pm (utc) on Sep. 8, 2006]


 2:07 pm on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

For the last two or three years I have tried to learn and apply accessibility principles to my web pages. They're not perfect, but they're better than they used to be.

I have found that without exception, paying better attention to the labels and layouts that improve accessibility has corresponded with improved ranks in the SERPs.

Moaning that the cost of becoming accessible might put some folks out of business overlooks the fact that it can bring benefits in return. Consider it an investment, not an expense.


 2:13 pm on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

Is it too much to ask a large company with a professionally-developed website to make a reasonable attempt to retain basic accessibility?

It depends on your economic views. Those that want a free market economy don't believe that the government has any right to tell a business that they need to have ALT tags. Those who want a more controlled economy will agree that businesses should be forced to provide accessibility to everyone.


 2:19 pm on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

So, if I have the choice, now exactly WHY would I want to host in the states?


 2:22 pm on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

Those that want a free market economy don't believe that the government has any right to tell a business that they need to have ALT tags

Some of us believe in a free market economy BUT not at the expense of throwing basic social justice out the window.


 2:28 pm on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

So, if I have the choice, now exactly WHY would I want to host in the states?

If you think hosting offshore puts you out of legal risk, you are wrong. It is where your business is located (and even then the government will still go after you if they want).


 2:34 pm on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

Some of us believe in a free market economy BUT not at the expense of throwing basic social justice out the window.

Social justice is the government saying I can't sell cocaine. Social justice is not telling me I have to make sure everyone has the same accessibility to my store. A true free market economy has no government regulation except in the case of barriers of entry into the market. It is strictly supply and demand. If there is demand for accessiblity, the market will supply it.

I'm not siding with either one, just saying that regulations like this are against the beliefs of a free market economy.


 2:54 pm on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

except in the case of barriers of entry into the market

... which is exactly what this case was about.


 3:02 pm on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

They have other sales channels they can use to shop at Target.

That doesn't fly in brick and morter, though.

"Sorry, this store is not accessable to the disabled. Please patronize our other store at..."

Anyway, this isn't going to bankrupt anyone. It costs almost NOTHING to implement the guidelines. Web designers just need to be aware of it when they implement their designs.


 3:11 pm on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

How do we enable an application to perform a transaction for a blind person? Has anyone even seen this done or have any ideas on how to make that happen?


 3:15 pm on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

... which is exactly what this case was about.

The barriers to entry was in reference to obstacles in the path of a company which wants to enter a given market.


 3:23 pm on Sep 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

I would love to get my hands on a free 30 day trial version of the screen reading software so that I could put a blindfold on and try to navigate my sites and experience them the way a blind person might. I think it's an exercise that every webmaster should try.

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