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Blind Student Sues Site Owner Claiming Civil-Rights Violations Over Alt Text
Suit charges retailer's Web site cannot be used by the sightless

 12:44 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

"...Target's site lacks "alt-text," an invisible code embedded beneath a graphic on the Web site that a screen reader could use to provide a description of the image to a blind person, the suit said."

"...A blind person cannot make a purchase independently on target.com."


what if one puts the wrong alt text, and a blind person buys the wrong thing relying on it? Not trying to be funny, but it can happen.



 6:19 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

How can this even go to court! What a joke for real.

The internet is unregulated; conforming to the web standards is optional. Why not start sueing ever car maker for not making todays vehicles wheelchair-friendly. The definition of a "Business" is to make a profit (definitions [google.com]); it does not say that it must have it's website accessible to all types of users.

It's not like Target built a 10 foot wall in front of the doors so that only the supreme elites can shop; is may not be good business practise to not have the alt tags; but do get sued for it, wow, that soo redicules. I hope he/she losses and gets sued for exortion.

I would not consider shopping at Target as a primary need; and given their are other retailers that may have a website that conforms...this person is physically and mentally blind to think they have a chance; I almost sure the lawyer is a relative or familty friend....

[edited by: fashezee at 6:28 pm (utc) on Feb. 9, 2006]


 6:21 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

>> internet is unregulated

And that will change. Okay, that's my last bit for this thread. ;)


 6:32 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

Maybe I'm missing something. Didn't Target offer product descriptions?

Products are typically displayed with a verbal product description. Alt tags are typically nothing more than a highly truncated product description.

If a site offers site search for products and product descriptions for the same products then what is the offense of omitting alt-text snippets?

What's wrong with this picture?


 6:38 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

What if Target didn't have a website at all? That's the glory of the internet, you can shop almost anywhere in the world.

Local bodies are a different matter and should be forced to allow all types of handicaps to shop there.

This customer did not have to shop there. She or he should have just clicked the back button like every other citizen of this world when they view a horrible website.

This isn't a matter of needing food, water, health, education, etc. This is about a customer wanting to buy a computer widget or something similar. The fact that this person is a student suggests that she or he could have just as easily walked to the nearest campus bookstore and picked up the same product.


 6:58 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

Great. Just what we need, more regulation of the internet. I can't even fathom how bad of an idea it would be to allow the US Federal Gov't to start gov'n HTML and design standards for private parties.

The Internet is not for everyone. Target should also provide computers for the poor and electricity for the mennonites.

Maybe we can come up with more reasons for companies to leave America? How about double taxes on Internet only companies? They're clearly denying those who like to utilize touch instead of sight!

Is there a Libertarian country I can move to anytime soon?


 7:18 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

> pmkpmk: And is it the ALT tag or rather the TITLE tag which unfortunately gets ignored by IE but is the tag initially designed for the purpose in question...

> ddogg: Yay more money for lawyers.

And wait until the plaintiff's lawyer discovers that IE lacks this support. Field day!



 7:21 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

How can this even go to court! What a joke for real.- The whole case is daft.

They are just PC point scoring.


 7:26 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

>> What if you ran a pharmacy and put the wrong labels on pill containers and a sighted person buys the wrong thing relying on them?

slightly different to ay the least, isn't it? Getting blue pants when you order the red ones, while upsetting, is not as bad as dying from drug reactions. Not to mention that drugs are regulated by a bazillion laws.

Here's more confusion: How much do you put on the alt tag? Color, type, size, price differences? Think of all the possibilities. I'm can see very well and I'm confused many times. I know it may not sound correct, but the world cannot be made perfect for everyone.


 7:44 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

I can't help but state the obvious -
Target is a target so why not sue
Yes, bad pun, boo hiss, etc.

The idiotic part of this is that from an ecommerce/SEO standpoint not having the alt-text is a huge missed opportunity as search engines definitely like seeing that the image description in the alt-text and the page content are about the same topic.

Seriously, I didn't see targets site being THAT bad as only a few images were lacking alt-text and you think those idiots would jump on this and fix it before more blind people jump on the legal bandwagon but no sign of change today.

Think the person will sue Flickr next?
"the alt-text didn't say pretty sunset with ducks in the foreground"


 7:58 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

several portions of the site used imagemaps with no text equivalent

So, somewhere out there is a dude who helped build this site, who was (probably) fired because he forgot to put ALT text on a flippin' imagemap.

I have some shopping things floating around the www, and perhaps a few of them have ALT text... I have offended blind people on many many occasions

I am so glad not to be that guy today.


 8:07 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

any e:commerce site should be forced to do so

If large companies want to adopt such standards to boost their image and customer base then fair enough, however, small businesses shouldn't have to cater for every possible minority of their potential customers.

The bottom line is - no-one can do everything in life. How do you approach the issue? Find a work-around, don't start suing random people/companies.


 8:14 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

[quote="Webwork"]If the accompanying product descriptions suitably described the product (when don't they at most major sites) THEN the "missing" alt-image text is mere duplication: It adds nothing more and nothing is missing. A blind person would still be able to envision the product based upon the verbal product description. Indeed, the alt-text could likely be only a snippet of the actual product description.

Right now this isn't making a huge amount of sense. Search box plus product descriptions are far more "enabling" to the blind than alt-text snippets.

Bad case maybe. [/quote]

I have to agree with Webwork that this might be a bad test case. Based on the fact that the information was all there and the alt text would duplicate the description. I work in the architectural field so I have to design buildings around the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for buildings. A good analogy would be the entrances to a building that requires stairs/ramp to enter. Not every entrance to that building is required to be accessible (ramp). If you provide the means for the building (information in this case) to be accessed at some point you have met the requirements.

Also for the cost argument will not fly because of the adaag requirements buildings have grown bigger. This isn't apparent in retail stores like target but when you get into a office building or doctors office with the space being divided up and hallways. Consider that a commerical building will cost 120ish a square foot on up and it used be you had a standard 3 foot hall way and anymore you need 5 to fit to comply..so your 20 foo hallway just added 5 grand to the building. If you are two stories toss in another 100 grand for that elevator. In the end its better for everyone and who knows oneday you might be in the situation where you wish everything was more accessible.


 8:18 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

>>It would be just ridiclulous if we would be forced by law or licencsing to make our website accessible to vision impaired people

U.S. law is very firm on providing access for disabled individuals - this has applied to public spaces, commercial buildings, the workplace, etc. For a US business, it's not optional. One can't say, "My store sells mountain climbing gear and racing bicycles, so it would be stupid for me to have to comply with the ADA rules for wheelchair accessiblity." (The health club I belong to has about 8 handicap parking places; I'm sure one or two are used occasionally, but I've never actually been there when one was in use. They've got to have them, though.)

For many issues, like wheelchair accessible restrooms or braille elevator buttons, the guidelines are quite specific. Websites are an entirely different matter, though, and cases like this will determine what is required. One of the tests used by some portions of the law is "reasonable accommodation". If a blind employee can be enabled to perform a job by adding a low cost text reading device, that would be reasonable; if a second, sighted employee was needed to help, that wouldn't be. What's reasonable for the Web? Who knows... but probably using established tools like ALT or TITLE tags would be reasonable, while converting your entire site to a "sound" version wouldn't be. My guess is that this definition will be very fluid for a while, and eventually coalesce around a set of "best practices".

The international nature of the Web may confuse things, too. Target, though, is a US company operating a US website for taking orders from US customers. Not a lot of wiggle room on that score.


 8:41 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

Here is the official site regarding Section 508. [section508.gov...]

Accessibility tools and support: [section508.gov...]


 8:43 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

Interestingly, there is precedent - when the Olympics hit Sydney a local blind man sued the Olympics for not making their website accessible. Google
Maguire vs SOCOG for details.
He won.
(Although, unfortunately US courts don't take .au precedents, and vice versa, so it only a moral precedent)


 8:43 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

internet is unregulated

And that will change.

It has already changed. I didn't see the analogy at first, but actually it is quite obvious. As some might know I'm not from the US but from Germany. We have already several laws regarding the internet, the most radical one being the Teledienstegesetz [bundesrecht.juris.de]. One of its regulations is that each website needs to have an imprint, giving a full name, postal address, phone number - and in case of companies the names of the owners/CEO's, a tax number and the name of the registration court office.

This may sound as obvious requirements. Every corporate homepage, every online shop should have this info. It's a no brainer!

But what happened after the law came into effect? Hordes of "businessmen" swarmed the web to look for sites without an imprint and made fortunes in issuing dissuasions where the webmasters had to pay them. Competitors sued each other because of missing imprints. Personal homepages got dissuasions as well.

I need to put an imprint according to a German law on an English-only page targeting the US & Canada, simply because I am acting out of Germany. Not that I am objecting to put these information up, but it's a) mostly useless to the US-visitors and b) it simply makes no sense in this case! I have to put my full name, address and phone number on my personal blog, simply because I am governed by German law.

Yes, the internet starts to get regulated.


 8:44 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

And is it the ALT tag or rather the TITLE tag which unfortunately gets ignored by IE but is the tag initially designed for the purpose in question...

And wait until the plaintiff's lawyer discovers that IE lacks this support. Field day!

What are you guys talking about? IE's behaviour is nonstandard, but very easy to bring into line. A few definitions may be in order to begin:

alt [w3.org]
For user agents that cannot display images, forms, or applets, this attribute specifies alternate text.

title [w3.org]
This attribute offers advisory information about the element for which it is set.

longdesc [w3.org]
This attribute specifies a link to a long description of the image.

The alt attribute then is meant to provide a replacement for the image. The title attribute on the other hand is meant to provide information about an element. The two work well together in fact:

<img src="postcards/leonardo/last_supper.gif" alt="Last Supper postcard" title="Leonardo's 'Last Supper': buy it now for $2.50" longdesc="postcards/leonardo/postcards.html#last_supper" />

The 'tag' [sic] 'designed for the purpose in question' is the alt attribute. IE--and every other modern browser--shows this attribute when it must, which is when images are missing or when the useragent doesn't support them (by design or user choice).

IE does handle the alt attribute in a non-standard way: when images are present/enabled by showing a 'tooltip'. Even this behaviour can be suppressed, however, by the use of the title attribute on the same element--then IE shows a tooltip for the title attribute instead. In situations where more information is necessary, use the longdesc attribute.


[edited by: bedlam at 8:48 pm (utc) on Feb. 9, 2006]


 8:48 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

I for one am religiously adherent about accessibilty, but this whole case doesn't seem to have anything to do with the needs of the disabled, or even political correctness, it's about litigation and abuse of systems put into place to protect us. Truly sad and IMHO one of the shameful aspects of American life.

I am reminded of the McDonalds hot coffee incident.


 8:51 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

Actually, there is some merit to this complaint. Go through the ordering process and look closely at each step. Notice how many of the "most important" elements for making a purchase are in graphic format?

Browse the site in text only mode! That is an absolute nightmare even for someone (a sighted person) who has images turned off while surfing. A blind person would not be able to make a purchase on the site which is the main basis for the complaint. Heck, a person surfing with images turned off couldn't purchase from the site. :(

I have a tool here that will take that page and "replace with alt". It is not a pretty picture and there are many changes they will need to make so that it comes up to par with the guidelines. Yikes!

They've been too busy on the programming side adding all the neat features and such. Someone forgot to tell them that a good portion of what they are using in inaccessible. I guess this lets them know that they have to make the changes now and not put them off anymore.


 8:58 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

I am reminded of the McDonalds hot coffee incident

And I'm reminded of the 700 incidents where customers were scalded by MCD's ridiculously hot coffee. Not similar at all. They consciously decided it was better to scald people and pay than to lower the coffee temp to a reasonable and safe level.


 9:01 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

Stella Liebeck vs. McDonalds Mythbuster [centerjd.org]


 9:11 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

>>IE's behaviour is nonstandard, but very easy to bring into line.

Ahhh, yes, but think of all the blind people who have been injured by this nonstandard behavior to date. Think of the pain and suffering from visiting sites and not being able to determine what was on the screen. Think of the billions in Microsphere's coffers, and how many tort lawyers would like a new G-550... ;)


 9:14 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

It's easy to get emotional over this and there are definitely two sides here. The sighted and those with poor sight or no sight at all. Please, take a moment and try browsing the site in question in text only mode. Or, if you have a screen reader, try going through the ordering process.

This is just not some off the wall claim. Apparently this is something that has been simmering for quite some time and has finally come to a head. Who better to target than Target?


 9:25 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

In my opinion the whole accessibility issue should be decided by the market. Legislating accessibility is idiotic. If businesses want to be patronized by the disabled, then they will accomodate them. No civil rights are being violated.

Ecommerce sights for the blind sounds like a nice niche market. I wonder if anybody will take advantage of it?


 9:31 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

Ecommerce sights for the blind sounds like a nice niche market. I wonder if anybody will take advantage of it?

Many of us already are. Design for the Blind and you design for the Spiders by default. :)


 9:35 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

I think it's terrible. The aggressive blind targeting and specifically discriminating against poor web developers and their employers. Shameless, really.


 9:39 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

P1R: I was about to say the same. And CSS makes life SO easy....


 9:48 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

And CSS makes life SO easy...

Not only that, add in the dynamics of a database driven site and the power is limitless. You can produce a fully valid, fully accessible site with a few template pages.

It all comes down to education. Our industry is divided into many groups; designers, programmers, marketers, etc. Each of us have our specialties. Today's marketer though needs to know a little bit of everything to succeed. One of those new "niche" markets is accessibility. Much of what we do on the SEO side translates over to an accessible site. But only if you'e been following the guidelines.

The Target site is a prime example of being a fully functional visually appealing dynamic site, but it fails miserably when it comes to what matters the most, the foundation of everything. They've missed a lot of the basic core element stuff that in total makes for a very unusable site to anyone with certain disabilities, in this case someone with sight issues. In my mind, it is also an unstable site.

I'll have to admit that I am bias in this matter. Why? I've passed 40 and my eyesite is not what it used to be. I am now finally realizing the importance of providing for the impaired, especially those who are visually impaired. The eyes are one of those senses that you definitely want to appeal to. And, for those who have lost or, are losing that sense, rely on alternatives. If today's successful ecommerce site is going to survive, they need to get their act together and start following the established guidelines for building accessible sites.


 9:55 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

What strikes me as odd is that many huge corporations and other "big guys" usually have very visually appealing sites, which - well - suck from a technical level. They have budgets for their websites I can only dream of, but the results (from a technical point of view) are bloated and - well - suck. Small businesses, on the other hand, tend to have lean, smartly programmed, easily spiderable sites.


 10:20 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

wow this case is a real *eye-opener*. it's given me quite a vision. Jokes aside, federal regulations are imposed on most major corporations for various types of discrimination, including those who suffer from a disability.

The fact is that target is only second to walmart. I've been in their store when a blind person was being assisted. Therefore, i'm speculating that even if a very small percentage of their customers used this, it would still likely outweigh the costs. The bigger implications lie for small businesses which may only serve several thousand people--with only one or two being blind. The costs wouldn't be spread out well.


 10:24 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

As the internet gets bigger and faster more things are possible. Dealing with accessibilty is 2006 should be no worse than dealing with slow computers and dial-up in 2000.

Cars were around for 50 years before automatic transmissions were invented and those idiots in the auto industry still haven't built a car that blind people can drive.

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