More News on the Target Accessibility Lawsuit

October 4, 2007

Topics: Accessibility, Law, News.

For a major issue in accessibility, I have to say that this really hasn’t seen much press. Granted, major lawsuits tend to move slowly — glacially, you might say. However, given the fact that the last announcement concerning the National Federation of the Blind v. Target Corporation lawsuit was in September of 2006, you’d expect some kind of blog coverage on the latest announcement.

In fact, I found it difficult to find anything about it at all, at first — I only became aware of it because I was talking to a web development manager from Target. (Articles are now easy to find via Google News.)

At any rate, the major news is that the lawsuit has been granted federal class-action status.

Granting class-action status allows blind people throughout the country who have tried to access Target.com to become plaintiffs in the suit, which alleges violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Associated Press

Further, the Judge (Marilyn Patel) ruled that changes in Target’s web site since the date of filing do not provide grounds for dismissal of the suit.

Judge Patel’s order Friday noted that Target has modified its Web site some since the suit’s filing to make the site more accessible to the blind. Target claimed the suit should therefore be dismissed, but Judge Patel ruled against that argument. Associated Press

Turning the suit into a class action may place additional pressure on businesses to start considering web accessibility a priority. One can hope, at any rate!

See also: Update: Target ruling may force retailers to adjust Web sites (Computer World)

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22 Comments to “More News on the Target Accessibility Lawsuit”

  1. Website should be used for mutual exchange of human life that science is better..

  2. Any legislation will cause resentment and stifle the use of new technology.

  3. As developers and designers, we have absolutely no control of which devices will be used to render our pages and our content.

    Absolutely true, Matt. We have some control over how successful the experience of the user might be with whatever device they choose, but we can’t in any way dictate to them what that device will be.

  4. I agree with those that have commented before me that the Web is not inately a visual medium. As developers and designers, we have absolutely no control of which devices will be used to render our pages and our content. We already have to deal with browser variations and versions, screen resolutions, etc. But we should also expect that some users will rely on screen readers, talking web capabilities, and hand-held devices to experience web content. Considering the Web as only a visual medium in many ways limits the kinds of user experiences it can accommodate.

  5. @Mike

    Yes, the government foots the bill. And yes it is not on the publisher’s, author’s, or agent’s shoulders, but you’re not going to suck me into that trap.

    Would I try to do that to a friend of mine? 🙂

  6. Chad:

    Don’ forget that the primary reason the web has been so successful is the low barrier to entry. You don’t need to write accessible, validating XHTML (eXtensible HyperText Markup Language - HTML reformulated as XML (eXtensible Markup Language)) to have a web presence.

    That’s why one of our key aims should be to promote accessibility to authoring software developers. People using FrontPage or DreamWeaver should, unless they try hard to subvert the software, produce by default a page that is reasonably accessible. No, it won’t be up to our standards, but it will be adequate and will avoid putting up too many barriers. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case – the software that is aimed at people who don’t know better is doing nothing to help them, but is aiding and abetting them in churning out offensively inaccessible rubbish.

    Is google maps supposed to be accessible to screen readers? What about information graphics?

    Why shouldn’t it be? If I ask Google Maps for a route from one place to another, it presents it in both graphical and textual form – a map and a set of directions – and the latter is (or should be) perfectly accessible to non-visual agents.

    Information graphics should be additionally rendered as text or tables if they are important to the content. Otherwise, people who can’t see your graphics – for whatever reason – won’t be able to understand the page!

    Yes, there will be some pages on the web that are purely graphical, and where the content will not make sense without the visual aspect, but these are a very small minority.

  7. @David: Yes, the government foots the bill. And yes it is not on the publisher’s, author’s, or agent’s shoulders, but you’re not going to suck me into that trap. I still feel the government should step in when it comes to the accessibility of private business web sites that serve the public if the party responsible for said site doesn’t take action on their own. But I don’t feel the government should pay for it. I wouldn’t, however, mind at all if they furnished educational resources and materials, or even if they offered grants or tax credits. I’m not saying government should be the bully.

  8. @Mike
    I remember and used the web when it was a text based interface — I understand that it is has evolved to the graphic interface many of us use today.

    Regarding books and Braille. Every publication that is registered for copyright through the Registrar of Copyrights in Library of Congress is subject to be produced in Braille and audio formats. The copyright applicant checks off a box or two stating this is permissible. The government takes it from there. That’s why Braille copies of Playboy magazine exist.

    Are you saying that the government pays to convert the books to Braille and audio? Isn’t that somehow different than forcing the book writer to bear the costs?

  9. Is google maps supposed to be accessible to screen readers? What about information graphics?

    It would be great if the information conveyed by Google Maps were accessible to screen readers. Yes, there do exist purely visual media formats. But the format is NOT the information itself. Information graphics? The information in the graphic should also be conveyed in text. A graphic (say, a bar chart) is simply a graphical representation of data. There’s no reason that the same information can’t be represented accessibly.

    I absolutely agree that the success of the web used to be the low barrier to entry. I’m not convinced that this is still the case. The crowding of the web has made the web a very changed environment. I think that the barriers are already higher than before, and that this is not an unreasonable expectation.

    A lot of people use the web to do primarily visual things and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.

    Of course not. I don’t think that ANY accessibility-focused designer would say that the visual aspect of the web is “wrong.” It is the primary medium for the web — it’s just not the ONLY medium for web information.

    @Stevie, Chad, and Mike: Thanks for your comments! I appreciate the conversation.

  10. @David: The web as we know it and use it is accessed by way of the support of a graphical user interface as accommodated by our operating system. The original internet was around before this type of interface was even invented. It’s all about sharing information. The guy who thunk all this up told us from the start that this was to be an accessible medium with universal access to all.

    Regarding books and Braille. Every publication that is registered for copyright through the Registrar of Copyrights in Library of Congress is subject to be produced in Braille and audio formats. The copyright applicant checks off a box or two stating this is permissible. The government takes it from there. That’s why Braille copies of Playboy magazine exist.

  11. Just to follow up.

    I want to use this news to make the case for web standards in my work as well. I just think we should be careful wishing for the bad fortune of Target when it could end up limiting who can do what on the web.

  12. Don’ forget that the primary reason the web has been so successful is the low barrier to entry. You don’t need to write accessible, validating XHTML (eXtensible HyperText Markup Language - HTML reformulated as XML (eXtensible Markup Language)) to have a web presence. You are free to represent yourself however you like. I also disagree with the anti-visual medium argument. A lot of people use the web to do primarily visual things and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Is google maps supposed to be accessible to screen readers? What about information graphics?

    The vast majority of web developers are aware of standards and accessibility issues and are slowly working them through the system. Any legislation will cause resentment and stifle the use of new technology.

  13. David Zemens:

    Since the web is primarily visual medium, isn’t saying a website descriminates against blind people essentially the same thing as saying that FedEx discriminates against the homeless, or that a compact disc discriminates against the deaf?

    Not at all, because you’re starting from a flawed premise. The web is not primarily a visual medium. It is primarily about content. The majority of people use it in a visual way, but that is not the same thing. There is nothing inherent in a website that lends itself to a visual rendering over an audial rendering.

    FedEx doesn’t discriminate against the homeless – they can’t deliver a parcel to someone if that person doesn’t have an address. A music CD doesn’t discriminate against the deaf, because its contents are of a form that the deaf would be unable to appreciate (I suppose you could just give them the staves to read, à la Beethoven). That isn’t true on the web. The content of a website should be just as accessible to someone who can read as someone who can’t.

    In the UK, the government has mandated many measures to promote social inclusion, and this is another step along that road. The reason that governments have to do this is because without being forced to, many people won’t do the right thing. You might think this is a constraint on your “freedom”, but why should you have the freedom to harm other people?

  14. I guess that’s the question: whether “to make a distinction” requires intent. I agree that most people who design inaccessible websites have NOT intended to discriminate. It’s a lack of awareness rather than a lack of concern or an active intent to discriminate.

    But there are certainly those who actively don’t care or who actively believe that the web isn’t FOR people with disabilities. Reading the comments on the Wall Street Journal article from February 7th, 2006 was pretty startling. There was some pretty severe animosity to the idea of making a website accessible. It looks to me like some of those comments are actually gone, now…but the idea holds.

    I’m honestly not certain whether I support the idea of a law requiring commercial websites to be accessible. From a social action perspective, I think it’s fantastic. From a business perspective, it couldn’t be anything but good for me. Thus, I consider myself a highly-biased observer.

    I’m not opposed to a fair amount of government oversight on industry, at heart — but I’m very concerned about the quality with which the law is written.

    You might find an earlier musing article I wrote interesting: Is legally mandated accessibility a benefit?.

    I’m not sure we’re exactly disagreeing here — I’m not settled enough in my opinion to say that I’m disagreeing with you. I am, however, enjoying arguing with you. 🙂

  15. That’s just it, Joe. I don’t think most people discriminate against accessibility, at least not according to this definition:

    –verb (used without object)
    1. to make a distinction in favor of or against a person or thing on the basis of the group, class,

    I don’t think that most people (or web designers) make a “distinction”. They just do whatever it is they choose to do. It’s not overt. I think the underlying definition of “discrimination” has evolved over time from something that was originally defined as overt to things that are now much more covert. I can’t help dwelling on the concept that I don’t think it’s the government’s business to force us to design accessible websites.

    We are going to have to agree to disagree on this one, but that notwithstanding, I sure want to do my best to make the sites I design accessible.

  16. The early intent of the web, as developed in ARPA net and the general idea of computer networking was to share information — the fact that this was most commonly accomplished through a video monitor is, to me, an incidental point. It’s the information that’s important; not the means.

    And whether the government should or shouldn’t be in the position of forcing business owners to provide accessibility? That’s a whole huge question of it’s own.

    The degree to which the government has the right to enforce any kind of behavior within private enterprise has been debated for a very long time. I’m not sure that I’m qualified to judge it. Under the same logic, most existing anti-discriminatory laws which apply to private enterprise are beyond what should be allowed. I’m not willing to support that.

  17. I still disagree to a point. The web may not have been created to be seen, but it’s inception as a medium that one viewed while using a computer monitor (pre-graphics and WWW) still, for all intents and purposes, made it a medium that was visual, in my opinion.

    I am personally in favor of designing accessible sites. I just don’t think the government needs to be in the business of forcing me, or you, to do so.

  18. I wouldn’t agree that the web was created “to be seen” or a visual medium because the original browsers and HTML (HyperText Markup Language) were just text-based. Also, I agree with Joe that the web is an informational medium, not specifically visual. That’s why they call it the “information highway”!

  19. I agree that a BOOK is created to be seen — but the text inside the book is created to be communicated. The web has the luxury of being capable of providing multiple experiences within a single structural framework. With purely physical media, the burden of creating alternate uses within the same framework is too great. With the web, however, it’s possible to seamlessly integrate an accessible experience with a traditional experience, if you’re willing to accept certain limitations on what you can do in totum.

    The market forces are already there; but industry is ignoring them. Primarily out of ignorance, but it remains the case.

    In the long term, I don’t think that legal requirements will be necessary — web development is still a maturing field, and I can see the possibility that accessibility will become routine. It is for me; it could be for many others.

    For the moment, however, what I see is a broad lack of awareness. I don’t ultimately care whether this lawsuit results in laws requiring businesses to integrate accessibility into their websites — I care primarily that the lawsuit helps raise awareness of accessibility issues and educates businesses about how an accessible web site can expand their market.

  20. I am not sure I agree, Joe. I think that a book, in it’s historical sense, *is* created to be seen. Should an author be forced to include lines of Braille code below each line of written text in a book s/he authors? Or rather, is there a marketplace decision that might be made by someone who sees a market for publishing the book in Braille?

    Should a highway billboard, which is a visual representation of information, be required to present itself in a manner that makes it equally accessible to a blind person?

    I think making accessible websites is a good thing, and I try and do it. If you, or someone else, does not want to adhere to accessiblity standards, I don’t think that the government should be forcing you do to so.

    The issue is always the same: the government or the market. There is no third solution. Ludwig von Mises

    I would like to see the marketplace, not the government, be the controlling factor.

  21. The web is not primarily visual. The web is an information medium, which happens to be most frequently accessed in a visual manner.

    I think it’s a common error to think of the web as a visual medium because that’s the manner in which we principally experience it. However, the foundation of the medium is really in the information it conveys, not the manner in which it’s conveyed.

    Paintings are an example of a medium which really is principally visual — they are created to be seen, and can be extremely challenging to present in any other way. Written text, however, presented in any medium (book, web site, etc.) is developed to be communicated. This communication can easily be realized through multiple media.

    Thanks for the Devil’s Advocate comment, David! I like responding to those kinds of things. 🙂

  22. My little corner of the internet is pretty small. I attempt to make every site I design standards compliant, Section 508 valid and (hopefully) for the most part Priority 2 or 3 accessible. In fact, it’s my interest in accessible web design that brings me to this website. With that being said, however…

    Warning – Devil’s Advocate Comment to Follow:

    Since the web is primarily visual medium, isn’t saying a website descriminates against blind people essentially the same thing as saying that FedEx discriminates against the homeless, or that a compact disc discriminates against the deaf?

    I am very interested in your comments and look forward to reading them.