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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.



 2:09 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

what if one puts the wrong alt text, and a blind person buys the wrong thing relying on it?

Then you've probably broken several laws and may spend much time in court.

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?

Don't think about what can go wrong -- save all yout energy for doing it right in the first place.


 2:42 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

What isn't clear is if they're after damages, or an injunction forcing Target to use alt-text.

Could be an interesting test case.


 2:54 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

It was going to happen eventually. I am surprised it took this long for someone to sue a major company for accessibility issues online. It will only be a matter of time before there is a serious push for clear federal laws on this matter.


 2:56 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

>>Could be an interesting test case

This kind of case was discussed here at least three years ago when most people thought that only government sites had to comply with accessibility guidelines. Be a good case to follow.

I did find out that a good number of institutions that give lip service to accessibility simply want other businesses to comply. So they offer software or consulting. In fact, I couldn't get a single accessibility 'expert' to engage in free discussion here.

This case could ensure that accessibility can't simply be ignored.


 2:57 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

Why would he want to shop online in the first place? I guess they have a brick&mortar store with clerks in which can be asked for assistance?

Or am I missing something important here?


 3:38 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

>>missing something important

Yes. :)

>> Why would he want to shop online in the first place?

Doesn't matter. What matters is that he wanted to shop online, and couldn't make a purchase independently. But since you asked, it could be that it is easier for him to shop online than it is to shop in a bricks and mortar.

I look for the day when web sites will be license. Much like businesses need a license to operate, eventually realization will hit that commercial enterprises need to fork over some cash for the privilege of operating online. Some entity is going to want to make money off the licensing. And with the license, comes accountability and compliance.

Should online commercial enterprises be forced to be accessible? Bricks and mortar enterprise are.


 4:26 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

Why would he want to shop online in the first place?

I guess you could try going to Target with your eyes closed. You'd have to find someone to go with you if you just want to browse. (On a computer, your browser can read aloud the menu options, so you can follow your fancy.) Once you find something, you have to ask someone how much it costs. (Your computer could have read that for you.) Will the person describe the item for you in detail, or will they let you take it out of the package to hold it in your hands? (The computer reads dimensions, materials and descriptions.) By the way, how'd you get to target? You didn't drive, so someone drove you, or you took the bus. You gonna carry that purchase home on a bus?

I don't know any blind people, so I don't know what they have to go through, nor how capable they actually are when facing the challenges I've "imagined" above, so I'm just tossing out an idea or two to answer the question, "Why would he want to shop online in the first place?"


 4:29 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

Not that I dont understand or agree but the cost implications of getting a site to be accessibility ready for some companies is just not business sense. They have to spend their own capital to change a website that may sell something to perhaps only a few blind users per year.

I can understand accesibility issues for people who have BAD eye sight as contrasting colours or too similar colours can make websites hard to read, not just for partially blind users but also old people, people with cataracts etc etc.

Within reason accesibility is a good thing and im all for it but getting a website perfect for blind users cannot and should not be a must for all websites. A lot of larger sites / companies could go bust with the amount they would have to spend to correct errors.


 4:40 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

How could a blind person ever buy something online, enter details, card numbers, ect ect, every cart is different, sounds impossible to me currently - Is this just a political point?


 4:42 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

From a quick check...

Target.com has alt-text on all navigation elements. And the few products I clicked on had alt-text on the products themselves and detailed descriptions of the product as part of the product page.

The imagemap issue appears to be valid though as several portions of the site used imagemaps with no text equivalent.


 4:44 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

OK, I don't know what kind of store "Target" is. My company produces goods for Graphic Designers. It would be just ridiclulous if we would be forced by law or licencsing to make our website accessible to vision impaired people. A blind person is by definition not a customer for us!

I don't believe in federal regulation. It usually tends to pervert the initial idea. As such, accessibility is a good idea. For federal sites it may even be enforced. But leave it to the owners of commercial sites to either implement it or not. For me, it would simply not make sense. For Target it might make sense, and if a competitor of theirs has an accessible website, they have a disadvantage and will eventually rethink matters. But this is nothing for courts or parliaments!

(I'm usually not THAT liberal, but in this special case I think the market will decide and sites where it makes sense will eventually make themselves accessible in any case)


 4:46 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

Within reason accesibility is a good thing and im all for it but getting a website perfect for blind users cannot and should not be a must for all websites. A lot of larger sites / companies could go bust with the amount they would have to spend to correct errors.

Spoken like a true sighted person!

Owners/builders/developers made the same squeeling noises when it became law that all public facilities had to be made wheelchair accessible. For much too long, the disabled have been treated as second class citizens. I think everyone should strive to help in any way they can to make their lives a little less dependant on others. Is it really so much to ask?


 4:47 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

>>Is this just a political point?

No. But it is apparent that this case might raise awareness. ;) The questions you asked seem valid. Familiarize yourself with the challenges blind people face and the tools that are available to them. Yes, it is difficult for blind people to shop online, but that is not an excuse to make it impossible for them to shop online.

>>market will decide

I have to respectfully disagree. The market has decided. The bean counters had their say, for years in fact. Which is why stores didn't have access ramps until the 70s. This is a perfect example of a situation in which the market shouldn't be allowed to decide. The market shouldn't be allowed to say, "Tough luck, but there's no ROI in it so we don't care how you shop".


 4:53 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

now here's an interesting idea...
how about a search engine that only allows fully accessible sites into it's index.
It may be a small index but you have hit your niche. and as your user base builds up i think more and more of the inaccessible sites may change to get included in this niche engine.

I am sure this would generate a lot of interest.

there are a lot of blind people in the world, so there is a market.


 4:55 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

btw: This would be the end of all Flash-only sites. Not that I would be particularly unhappy about that...


 5:01 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

Sounds like something that has the potential to make lawyers a lot of money, put lots of businesses (or at least their websites) out of business and stifle growth on the net. Next thing ya know there will be some big alt text regulatory body that will have to review every site before it goes online.

What's next? Well the alt text didn't accurately represent the product or the alt text just contained the product ID number and not the name of the product so not everyone could get the same information from the site.

Anyway, it looks like Targt makes extensive use of Alt Text throughout the website. For a retail product site (and this appears to be the case for Target) the Alt text is often essentially the same as the product description so it appears to provide the same info to a text reader or someone actually viewing the page.

My biggest concern with this, where does the line get drawn?


 5:02 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

Presumably the plantiff's lawyer's website is fully compliant with the design standard charged, as is the website for the court where the case is filed.

Does anyone know of a centralized resource where such standards are articulated? Where the "how to" is laid out?

Anyone know if W3 standards are consistent with all the design standards "sued for"? Is it just alt image descriptions?

IF the website offers an alternative solution, such as an 800# or live chat/help for the visually impaired isn't that sufficient, if not superior?

Could be a bad test case if other reasonable accommodations existed.

Question: Wouldn't a blind shopper not start by entering a query in a search box, such as "red sweaters", instead of surfing through the images for a red sweater? Seems to me that a blind person would have to "look" (alt text) at one heck of a lot of images IF that was really the issue.

Likewise, I'm accustomed to the verbiage accompanying products to include decriptions of the products size and colors, so is the image the end of the line if there's no alt-text?

I haven't read the complaint but something about alt-text as the basis for accessibility litigation just feels a bit . . . spongy? 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.

[edited by: Webwork at 5:13 pm (utc) on Feb. 9, 2006]


 5:05 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...

 5:15 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

I'm not against accessibility for the impaired. I AM against forced accessibility.

You want to serve the blind-fine. I do too.

But while it appears on the surface to be a noble thing, (for impaired folks to be able to do everything sighted folks can do) legislating and enforcing it would actually oppressing the majority. Suing over this issue is absurd. Californians. ;-)


 5:33 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

Yay more money for lawyers.

What a joke.


 5:35 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

I AM against forced accessibility.


While I think there are many sites that should be made accessible to the blind (government information sites, perhaps some schools, etc.), there are other sites that are purely visual (someone's online picture album without any text) or otherwise should not be forced to be made accessible to the blind.

Whether or not a blind person would actually buy online at Target is debatable. True, he/she could be doing price comparisons before having a friend take him/her to a store to buy it offline.

But if we're going to get sue happy, let's look at some other targets (no pun intended!):
- iTunes and other online music sites that are not "accessible" to the deaf
- Publishers of Braille books that don't include regular print- those aren't "accessible" to sighted people
- sites only in English because they aren't "accessible" to non-English speakers

Also, it sounds like Target would be in perfect "compliance" if all they did was add the following to every single image on the site:
Gee, that would really be a huge improvement!


 5:39 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

"Californians. ;-) "

It's a far reach to assume that someone who goes to college in California is from California or plans on staying here after graduation.

I live in a small town here in California. Somewhere along the line our single elementary school aquired a reputation for being exceptional for children with "special" needs. In the last couple of years this has become a hot political topic because of the vast number of "special" students moving into the districts boundaries. We now have a situation where 28% of the yearly annual budget is spent on the 2% of students' special needs.

I'm all for accessabilty guidelines but just because we have the technology/ability to do something doesn't mean we should be forced to do it in all situations. At some point the bean counters and the idealists will have to come to some sort of compromise.



 5:45 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

Wow. I am all for making sites compatible with visual impaired and W3C compatible, but geez!

What happens if the student does when this case? Does that mean that every site will be impacted and so every site will have to use the alt attribute? Although, I'm sure it's really the title attribute they are talking about...

This is just ridiculous to me. If the site does not offer a great service to the customer the customer should look elsewhere to make a purchase. What if Target didn't have rails for old people? Should they sue Target because they can't walk correctly in order to buy something?

What about all the stores who don't have carry out. How are they suppose to purchase a heavy item?

There are also many many, places which still don't offer big enough doors for wheelchairs. Let's get that handled first before we go talking about something on the internet.

The difference is that on the internet there are thousands of places to shop. In a local area, maybe there's only one Target within 300 miles. If there are laws that are put in place, I hope they consider this.

Also, if there aren't any stores now which are going to make their site accessable to legally blind, I'm sure 1000 more will popup tomorrow which will. That's how the internet has always worked... let's keep it that way without letting some ridiculous lawsuits tell us what we can and cannot due, web standards wise.


 5:45 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

I saw this news item last night and my immediate thought was that this is the way of the future. I too am surprised that it took this long.

In the long run this is a good thing as it's adding more users to your website, more clients buying your widgets, and more people clicking on your ads.


 5:50 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

I spent some time working for the state of Texas training blind people how to use computers. It is a constant problem trying to buy things online. It could be quite expensive to make sites so that screen readers will work. There are very few blind people in America and even fewer that know how to use a computer. And even fewer that need to go to a specific website. Companies are out to make money. They would lose money on this deal. It would be cheaper to hire somebody to answer the phone and just tell blind people what they have for sale. No company ever sent out Braille catalogs before the Internet. Handicap laws are getting out of hand. I used to work in an office that had to upgrade to meet the new laws. They put in like 20 handicap parking spaces and I have never seen more than one used and that was rare. They had to take the urinal off the wall in the bathroom and lower it a foot. Who in the world is going to try and use a urinal from a wheelchair. Near my house they put in a very loud bell for blind people to cross the street. That is the stupidest thing I ever heard of. Blind people use their hearing when they cross a street. Now they can’t hear because all they hear is that stupid bell. Would you cross a street just because you saw a light blinking “WALK” no you look both ways first. They are asking the blind to just walk when they hear the bell.


 5:54 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

I think the comment about not having to supply a printed catalogue in braille is an interesting analogy?



 5:54 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

>>In the long run this is a good thing

Roger, all the arguments against 'enforced accessibility' have been made before. What? Force stores to add parking for the handicapped? And access ramps? And braille tags to elevators and restrooms? It will put people out of business and stifle growth. (yawn)

Fascinating that we get to witness and participate in a compressed timeline version of the issues bricks and mortars faced eh?


 5:57 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

I don't think Sally Schwartz from Dudangania will be forced to comply with W3C standards or forced to use ALT tags for her vacation photos page, but any e:commerce site should be forced to do so ... and its about time too!

Matt Probert

 6:13 pm on Feb 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

At first I was sympathetic towards Target. The litigation culture has become ludicrous. Then I took a look at Target's web site using Lynx.

It is an unholy mess and quite unacceptable. The danger I feel is where "reasonable" comes in. We can all make mistakes, however as it stands Target's web site is definitely unusable by the blind, and even by the sighted using a non-graphical browser, and that is, in my opinion, unacceptable.


This 212 message thread spans 8 pages: 212 ( [1] 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 > >
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