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Accessibility and Usability Forum

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Judge Certifies Class Action Lawsuit against Target Website

 1:11 pm on Oct 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

Reuters via Yahoo! News: Judge allows class action against Target Web site [news.yahoo.com]

A federal judge in California certified a class action lawsuit against Target Corp brought by plaintiffs claiming the discount retailer's Web site is inaccessible to the blind, according to court documents.

Also see:

  • Blind Student Sues Site Owner Claiming Civil-Rights Violations Over Alt Text [webmasterworld.com]
  • Federal Judge Sustains Discrimination Claims Against Target.com website [webmasterworld.com]
  • Group Sues to Make Online Retailers Answer to the Blind [webmasterworld.com]


     1:31 pm on Oct 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

    Thanks balam, that's BIG NEWS!

    "All e-commerce businesses should take note of this decision and immediately take steps to open their doors to the blind," Maurer said.

    The precedent has now been set. Here comes the rush...


     1:34 pm on Oct 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

    I figured this would start happening sooner or later.

    This is pretty similar to RL lawsuits (inaccessible doorways, stairwells, bathrooms, etc.).

    I guess that we need to make sure that Web site developers know where the threshold is for required support.

    I believe that the threshold in the US for employees is 50 employees, but I'm not sure. It could well be less.

    I'm not sure what the rules are for service and retail space.


     4:13 pm on Oct 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

    Haha! I've been expecting that for ages.

    Now waiting for a test case in Europe. The law here is pretty clear and was updated recently, but until someone brings a case I don't think companies are taken this seriously enough.


     5:04 pm on Oct 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

    Shouldn't it matter what type of site it is? Like, if you have an auto-related site, usually I don't like seeing blind people driving down the road (that's just me), so why would the blind need to see a site like that...unless purchasing for family, I guess. I mean I can understand SOME, but some sites would be silly to be friendly to the blind IMHO. Boy, I can see a real mess coming from this in some cases.


     5:21 pm on Oct 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

    I would think a web site was more like a print catalog than a real store. Saying sites need to comply is one thing, but even when laws about ramps etc were created, businesses had a reasonable amount of time to comply.


     5:26 pm on Oct 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

    Does anyone have an estimate of what it would have cost Target to make their website accessible to the visually impaired?


     5:37 pm on Oct 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

    Unless the Americans With Disabilities Act has a section regarding websites, I'm afraid this is one court case they better hope Target settles, because I can see no way this could be won. Here's a thought, how about instead of sueing people for fun and profits, you put your energy into developing either technology or services that help people make their sites more accessible or just promote the existing ways they can. I have no sympathy for people who sue instead of doing something constructive regardless of how woefully disabled they are. I mean, if you had a brain instead of an agenda you might think about starting a company that makes site's accessible. Put down the lawyer and take two steps back.


     5:38 pm on Oct 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

    Does anyone have an estimate of what it would have cost Target to make their website accessible to the visually impaired?

    I quoted them 1 million - haven't heard back yet.


     5:43 pm on Oct 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

    Target's site is run by Amazon.com

    I wonder if only B&M merchants with websites really have to worry.

    Ajax sites would be ruined if this was law.


     5:58 pm on Oct 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

    Ajax sites would be ruined if this was law.

    Not necessarily. I use AJAX quite a bit, and my sites are accessible up the yin-yang.

    It just takes some extra effort, which is actually often a tall order, as time==money. I have the "luxury" of doing sites pro bono, which means I can take the time to "polish the fenders" without fretting about lost duckets.


     6:39 pm on Oct 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

    What if a blind man cannot hear either? Shall he sue all websites?


     6:42 pm on Oct 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

    I took the time as well to update my ecommerce site as well to comply, but is this law or law suit only for ecommerce sites to beware?

    I suspect it is and or could be for any and all sites. That as well includes myspace, webmasterword, google images search etc.

    Good post I was able to add this after reading yours and felt it was better to add than to make another post.

    I agree we can't bash them this does nothing but show our lack understanding.

    Put yourself in their place I am sure you would want to access to the www I am proud of the fact I have taken the time to build a site anybody can use the blind or hearing impared, and feel if you have a problem with that then time to get out of this business.

    [edited by: bwnbwn at 7:20 pm (utc) on Oct. 3, 2007]


     6:45 pm on Oct 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

    Put down the lawyer and take two steps back

    Some day do an inventory of the "rights", protections and other niceties of civilized society that you enjoy and then do a little historical background check on what role lawyers and jurists/judges played in creating, fashioning and protecting them from attempts to destroy, subvert or deny you access to them. The line "First, we shoot all the lawyers" was uttered by someone intent on establishing a dictatorship.

    You want to see what societies without a vital legal system look like today? Ones where they really got the "lawyer are bad" rhetoric down really good? You don't have to look that far. Just find a dictatorship, military government or iron-fisted highly "centralized" (quasi-dictatorship) government. If you prefer that model go for it. With the right attitude you might even make it as a leader . . err . . boss.

    The ADA was and is a sound piece of legislation that offers, as a last resort more often than not, access to the judicial system. Like any piece of legislation there may be attempts to extend it to contemporary circumstances, especially in a world where technology changes processed (shopping, now online) but not principals (accessibility). There may even be attempts that go so far that some or many will say "That's an abuse". Welcome to the free world. It's people pushing the envelope - and not getting thrown in jail - that lets your know you're in a society that values rational dialogue and debate.

    I've been to court likely a few more - more likely a 1,000 more times than you have - and I can tell you from rather extensive experience that one of the first statements or questions any jurist worth their robe presents to the litigants is "Tell me about settlement. Where do things stand?" Very few folks who routinely work with or in "the system" want to see wasteful or frivilous litigation. There simply aren't the resources within the system to afford wasteful or stupid litigation. So "the system" has erected all manner of defenses, such as motions for summary judgment, frivilous claims statutes, motions for sanctions, etc.

    Anyone who actually knows how the system works, based upon something a bit deeper than chance encounter or what they see on television, knows that the people within the system also see litigation as costly and inefficient. This is why most disputes do not end up in court, because I - like most of my peers - advise people against litigation for those very reasons.

    Litigation is often a sign of failure, of someone behaving intransigently. IF it's so obvious that the person sitting on their hands is entitled to sit on their hands - instead of playing the more classic "We will wear 'em down by delaying and denying and overwhelming 'em" - that person or company will, more often than not, get the case dismissed.

    From my own experience I'll offer this bit of insight: Litigation often IS a failure, but it's the type of failure surely beats the alternative of either dictatorship, rule by arms, or rule by simple economic power.

    [edited by: Webwork at 7:13 pm (utc) on Oct. 3, 2007]


     7:34 pm on Oct 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

    Maybe we should get together and sue whoever makes the screen readers. Make sure they work with all browsers, all types of html, tables, etc. I have never seen one, have no idea how they work, but certainly they could be improved.


     7:36 pm on Oct 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

    Wow, lots of folks running scared and getting defensive!


     7:58 pm on Oct 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

    IIRC, in an earlier thread there was mention of all the things the plaintiffs tried before taking this to the legal system. It wasn't their immediate response.

    I had an experience that showed me in a small way the frustration of some shoppers. I don't have flash on my office computer and the only person allowed to put programs on our computers is our department PC czar - er, manager - so it will remain flash-less for the foreseeable future. Our department does cancer research - that's it, nothing else. That's what I spend all my "day job" hours working on. I was on the website of a major national cancer organization and noticed they had an interesting book for sale that I hadn't seen before, so I went to their store area to buy it - The entire store set-up was done in flash! I couldn't even see images of the book covers, much less purchase anything. I emailed them, thinking that surely they must have an alternate way of buying something, but the reply was more or less, "Sorry, that's how it is." That was awhile ago, and I'm hoping that by now they've gotten enough complaints to have changed it - I haven't been back to check.

    That's one shopping experience. If I had to put up with that regularly, I wouldn't be buying anything online.


     8:09 pm on Oct 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

    Before I rant I will say I think anyone who alienates a potential customer is a fool.


    I find the parallel that they are trying to draw between physical access to a physical location and virtual access to a virtual location to be quite insane.

    The reality is they have access to the site.... If they can hit the front page then they have just accessed the site.....they just can't navigate it and possibly not be able to detect any content.

    So is the issue that they must have access? If so then we have nothing to change.

    Or is the issue that they have to be able to navigate the site? If so a statement like "....Web site is inaccessible to the blind" is not true. They need to be more diligent in pointing out the technical aspect of what is wrong with the site and not to use words like "inaccessible".

    To make a site "inaccessible" to someone based on someones vision you would need a htaccess script that could tell if the user had vision.

    If (user = blind) {raise "403Forbidden"} else {url = '/index.html'}

    Now that would make a site inaccessible to the blind.

    Instead of piggybacking off legislation that couldn't have possibly envisioned website access as part of it's purpose they should create new legislation that would outline what screen readers need to work. What disabled access means for a website. Trying to map over the terms to make sense in the web world is crazy... ask yourself what does "access" mean when talking about a web page? It is just the wrong term. As are 1000 of terms meant for the real world not the digital one.

    I know this is nit picky but we have enough of this crap where they try to put laws meant for a physical world to the digital one and expect it all to translate over and make sense.... The fact is that it doesn't and most of those laws were written before there was a web.. sometimes even before there were computers. So how can we apply them?

    The virtual world and the physical one are not the same... not even a little bit... we need law specific to both.

    That all being said make your sites work for screen readers.

    [edited by: Demaestro at 8:10 pm (utc) on Oct. 3, 2007]


     8:20 pm on Oct 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

    They need to be more diligent in pointing out the technical aspect of what is wrong with the site and not to use words like "inaccessible".

    They were in the original lawsuit. I was intimately involved with that topic which is the first of the three balam mentioned above. You could not complete the checkout process if you were using assistive technologies like having your images turned off while browsing. I took one of the pages in question and took it apart byte by byte. They had some issues to address due to the JavaScript methods being used to dynamically create the Buy Now buttons. Plus there were other challenging issues.


     8:27 pm on Oct 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

    If this succeeds, do you think the day will come that illiterate people can sue because a website isn't "accessible" to people who can't read?


     8:34 pm on Oct 3, 2007 (gmt 0)


    I know what you mean but....

    Do they have access to the page?

    Do they have access to the check out button?

    To me the answer is yes... the page doesn't discriminate based on vision.

    My issue is the legal wording. To me "access" means if they traverse to a URL... and the page loads... Then yes they have access to the page.

    If the issue is that a proprietary third party tool that reads screen is unable to submit a page then that needs to be specified... which screen readers must work? What is the standard for screen readers?

    I would argue that if you parsed all the elements in the target checkout form that needed to be submitted... then parsed the URL the form submits to from the source... that one could compile a URL with a query string that would allow them to hit the next page.

    So is the problem that the screen reader isn't smart enough to submit it or that the page makes it impossible to submit?

    I know this is picky but if we are going to be held to a standard by law then I would like that law to be specific to websites rather then having to guess what the law would mean if Websites had been considered at the time it was written.

    I think we should have these laws... but we need new ones specific to the issues we face.

    [edited by: Demaestro at 8:35 pm (utc) on Oct. 3, 2007]


     8:36 pm on Oct 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

    Well Matt, since we're reducing things to the absurd, look at it this way, if the suit succeeds, and websites are made accessible to the blind, they will be accessible to the illiterate as well.

    >>page loads = access

    That is a very narrow definition of access. Try "the right to obtain, or make use of, or take advantage of something, (as services or membership)


     9:00 pm on Oct 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

    A link on the home page to "special needs operators" should satisfy everyone.

    A blind visitor could click a link to get an audible or "totally screen read accessible" message telling then how to contact a "concierge" type operator who would assist them with their online shopping.

    Phone companies provide TTY phone service and TTY phone operators who will act as the go-between for TTY and non-TTY users... (programs like CTAP, DDTP, and CRS in California which are funded by small legislation mandated surcharges on all user's phone bills).

    For the web, a surcharge of probably $0.02 on domain registration could probably fund it.

    Anyway, this sounds like a case of the blind leading the blind (into a lawsuit) --- which isn't necessarily a bad thing.


     9:10 pm on Oct 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

    Try "the right to obtain, or make use of, or take advantage of something, (as services or membership)

    Obtain: Did the computer of the user receive the file? If yes then they "obtained" the page.

    make use of or take advantage of: There is much they can use and take advantage of... I believe that the problem is that the screen reader is not able to make use of or take advantage of it.

    See my example of preparing an URL and using 'put' rather then post as an alternate way of submitting forms. I ask again.... is the problem the reader or the site?

    This question and others can't be answered until we define what the standard for a screen reader is. The best central place for info on making a site complaint is here at WebmasterWorld... for physical buildings they have building codes to adhere to and use as a guideline so they know if they are breaking law... what do we have? A bunch of speculation about what "should" keep us out of trouble.... hardly what I would call legally binding as far as a website building code is concerned.

    Disapproval of my understanding of the word access aside, are you suggesting that using current laws for "access for the disabled" and applying them to websites is the right way to go?

    [edited by: Demaestro at 9:12 pm (utc) on Oct. 3, 2007]


     10:55 pm on Oct 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

    The reality is they have access to the site.... If they can hit the front page then they have just accessed the site.....

    Accessibility and usability are not synonymous. Someone in a wheelchair can get into the ground floor of a building if it is at street level, but without ramps or elevators, that is as far as they can go. Opening a home page does not make a site usable. Anyone, blind or sited can open a web page, but it does you no good if you cannot access the content.



     11:15 pm on Oct 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

    This discussion sounds very much like the early ADA discussions. "My store sells running gear - why do I need to have a wheelchair ramp?" Eventually, everyone got with the program, all new construction was ADA compliant, and even if the running shoe store turned into a music shop, wheelchair-bound people had no access problems.

    The weird nexus issues involved with websites make legal restrictions more complex, but it's plain silly that a big firm like Target can't make its site minimally accessible, even if just for PR purposes. Letting this case go on as long as it has is crazy. My suspicion is that the plaintiffs are more interested in their own PR campaign vs. a quick settlement.

    I don't think legal advocates for the blind are going to be filing nuisance suits against inaccessible MFA sites. (Then again, maybe that wouldn't be a bad thing... :))


     11:57 pm on Oct 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

    From the lawsuit
    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

    Visit the site, hit ctrl-a, notice that the WHOLE site is nothing but image maps. Whomever designed the site OR constrained the site to such absurdities should have known that this was a problem. When is the last time you found a site that didn't have text?


     12:55 am on Oct 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

    --- Whomever designed the site OR constrained the site to such absurdities –

    Not at you but…

    I am half way blind, I can't see anything (on the screen or not), 4 feet away.
    Yet I use Glasses. They work for me.

    People SUE in US for giggles; People SUE in other countries for giggle as well. Maybe, and just maybe, People should sue the company that sold them the software to access the site, the READER that is. Maybe people should SUE the company that let them download the software for free that does not work the way the thought it should. Or may be people should sue the company that led them to the site for making too much money and wasting it on space exploration sweepstakes projects that are light years away?

    If the parser is not working, what good is it?

    Don't get me wrong, I do know how it feels.


     1:46 am on Oct 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

    Only in America....


     2:00 am on Oct 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

    Precedents are being set and Target.com just happens to be the guinea pig. This lawsuit goes back a couple of years and involves much more than what all of us are discussing right now. Target.com had plenty of forewarning that litigation was going to be an option if they didn't address issues with their site long before the lawsuit came to fruit.

    The Target.com website is a prime target for accessibility and usability advocates. It uses technology that is inherently flawed to begin with and on top of that, when I did my research, it almost looked like they "purposely" designed the page to be inaccessible. I know what it was, it was a poor man's attempt at cloaking their Buy Now and Checkout Buttons and it backfired on them.

    All the flaws I found in my research were easily fixed. I'm not sure what the technical challenges were on the Target.com side. Either way, whatever they were, it would have been a lot less costly to fix them back then, than dealing with this lawsuit now, that's for sure. :)

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