An update on the Target accessibility lawsuit

May 12, 2006

Topics: Accessibility, News.

See also the more recent update on the lawsuit.

One of the original reasons I started this blog was to track information about the ongoing accessibility lawsuit against Target Corporation. Recently, ComputerWorld published an extensive article discussing the lawsuit and surrounding issues. The article contains a number of interesting points, including a great quote on Ajax and Accessibility from Jeff Bishop, a blind application systems analyst at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

"It’s very, very, very scary. Before, so what? You had a missing [alternative-text]tag, but at least you knew there was an image. You could click on it, and maybe you could figure out what it was. Now, you don’t even know where to click. You don’t know how to interact."

Although the article doesn’t deal directly with the Target lawsuit, it does discuss the possible consequences if the lawsuit is successful. ZDnet.com also discusses this question in a lengthy article by David Berlind.

There’s clearly a slowly growing awareness of the potential of the Target lawsuit to radically shift the view of website accessibility in the United States. It’s already become law in the United Kingdom – it may become an economic necessity in the US!

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4 Comments to “An update on the Target accessibility lawsuit”

  1. Well, that’s an interesting question: the issue was defined only in civil court because injustice is not equal to illegality. What was determined was that the service received by disabled users of Target’s website was injust — but illegality has very little to do with justice.

    Whether something is illegal is entirely dependent on the existence of a specific law which defines that action as illegal. Until a criminal court decides to interpret an existing law to make accessible website a legal requirement or until a legislative action creates a new law defining that requirement, it’s simply not illegal.

  2. While this has been a hot button issue for sometime, this lawsuit really didn’t define much in the matter of law. Target was required to pay damages, but yet in the eyes of the law, they did not commit an illegal act. If a civil court deems this an injustice to a group of people, shouldn’t a criminal court define it as well?

  3. I certainly agree with you – having the issue of accessibility settled in law is not necessarily advantageous for developers. Your example of keyboard shortcuts is a good one – “accesskeys” are a tool I generally prefer not to make use of, since they controvert the natural behavior of the user agent. If they were required by law, then I would be in the position of needing to use a technique which I actually believe to decrease the accessibility of a site.

    I don’t think that it’s likely to actually decrease business for web developers. Although the increase in liability is certainly likely, the massive growth in internet commerce seems too great an audience to be ignored by most businesses.

    Still, it’s a valid point, and you can never be certain what market forces will accomplish.

  4. While I applaud the movement toward accessibility, several things popped into mind about how well the case can fare and what its impact on Web Workers might be.

    One of the things I wonder is: how far must a web property go to be in compliance with physical-world standards for accessibility. One article I read (and I have just started) mentioned Target’s site did not employ keyboard shortcuts. I can certainly understand why relying on a mouse would be a little far-fetched. When I walk through a store, I expect “accessibility? to mean (in a physical sense) the ability for people of varying physical abilities to get around the store and “access? areas and information. I do NOT expect signs in Braille describing the color, washing instructions, and brand label of a piece of clothing. I also don’t expect there to be devices that allow a sight-impaired person to understand how to find the escalator or maps through mazes of clothing racks. I would expect “accessibility? on a website to help users “get around? the virtual property and, in the absence of humans around to ask questions of and get pointers, functionality to facilitate understanding the geography and content of the property. But again, how far is far enough?

    Another thing I wonder is: what impact might this have web designers/developers. On the one hand, it could mean more business for us; on the other hand, it could mean LESS business because now websites have become a touchpoint for liability.

    While I was already aware of the W3C standards, I was not aware that there has been activity in the matter of accessibility in other places as well. A quick Googling found this, for in instance: Illinois Web Accessibility Standards, which includes links to such references as Federal Section 508.

    -ron