A federal judge in California certified a class-action lawsuit against Target Corp on Tuesday. The suit claims that Target’s website is not accessible to the blind, and the plaintiffs have accused Target of violating state and federal anti-discrimination laws. “All e-commerce businesses should take note of this decision and immediately take steps to open their doors to the blind,” said the president of the National Federation of the Blind, a party to the suit. [Reuters]

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  1. UpsetPanda says:

    What should websites do, have an area where blind people can click on links to have the site say where things are located? Prices? Colors? I mean, this seems legitimate at first and then you realize that he internet is such a visual place and that access for the blind is harder than it seems.

  2. theWolf says:

    I can’t wait until they extend this to automakers.

  3. Dibbler says:

    OMFG! This had got to be the stupidest lawsuit in the world. How do you make a website like amazon.com or target.com accessible to the blind? Maybe I just don’t understand this one or aren’t PC enough…?

  4. serreca says:

    @Dibbler: You aren’t the only one. I don’t get it, either. This is kinda like someone in a wheelchair or who has trouble walking suing because they can’t climb a mountain.

  5. DeeJayQueue says:

    I’m pretty sure you can use a combination of text-only browsers and a braille pin machine to read a regular website. Lots of retailers can’t make this work, hell lots of people can’t even get their site to look right on firefox vs. IE vs. Safari., much less meet ADA compliance. Either this will get thrown out on the grounds that they have a brick&mortar store to shop at that can cater to the disabled, or the blind people will start suing everyone who uses Java on their websites.

  6. MENDOZA!!!!! says:

    ummm, are deafing people suing radio stations?

  7. Jaysyn was banned for: http://consumerist.com/5032912/the-subprime-meltdown-will-be-nothing-compared-to-the-prime-meltdown#c7042646 says:

    @DeeJayQueue: Re: JAVA. That may be a good thing!

  8. Sephira says:

    It’s called 508 compliance. The blind use screen readers that “read” the text aloud to the user.

  9. Anonymous says:

    You guys have seriously never heard of screen readers? A properly designed, standards compliant website will have meaningful alt tags for images, proper use of semantic HTML, etc.

    [www.w3.org]

    [alistapart.com]

    [en.wikipedia.org]

    Keep in mind that a well designed site can have all the flash and sizzle you want while still providing graceful degradation for accessibility.

  10. Geekybiker says:

    I can’t wait for the suit against TV makers ’cause the blind cant see the picture.

  11. FLConsumer says:

    I hate a lot of this ADA crap. I do think companies SHOULD try to accomodate the disabled when possible. Key phrase: WHEN possible. Sometimes it’s a very simple and inexpensive solution, other times it’s flat out impossible.

    Even having a friend who is in a wheelchair, I still feel this way. There’s a reason it’s called DISabled. Yes, you’re not going to experience the world in the same way the rest of us are.

    While we’re at it, why don’t we sue radio stations & major music record labels for not having sheet music appear for the hearing impaired? C’mon people. I know it sucks to not be able to do all of the things other people do. I’ve had to decline many things with my friends due to heart problems, but you’re not going to see me suing Six Flag’s for not making their roller coasters to work at levels my body can handle.

  12. rmz says:

    One point that was brought up on Ars Technica that I thought was interesting was the potential that this could have for Flash/AJAX or other Web 2.0-type technologies that are highly unfriendly to screen readers or other similar tools.

    Will this lead to an age where everyone oversimplifies their web sites out of fear of being sued?

  13. Anonymous says:

    @RMZ:

    Sure, if everyone is a lazy coder.

  14. bdgbill says:

    I work for a major oil company. We have been sued several times for not having braile instructions on our GAS PUMPS. You know, for all those blind drivers out there. All of our new pumps now feature braille instructions.

  15. MercuryPDX says:

    I worked for an agency that made retail training websites for tech companies. One particular computer maker was “forced” into making their public facing websites section 508 compliant in order to receive a government contract.

    Technically, our site for this manufacturer did not meet the criteria that necessitated the need for it to be 508 compliant. We argued that since our “product” was a password protected site that catered only to retail sales people, that we should be exempt (How many blind sales people do you come across in Best Buy or Circuit City?). We also outlined the high costs and increased production time involved in retrofitting the website, and for moving forwards.

    Our company brought a representative from an organization for the blind to help us all become familair with how the blind experience the internet. He agreed that while it was a nice effort, retail sales was not a field in which the blind were employed. The manufacturer still insisted, so we complied.

    New production on the site halted. What ensued was a three month nightmare of recoding and “breaking” the site. Our sites used a lot of Flash, which required an alternate text version that was screen reader friendly; instead of a “movie”, blind users would be read a list of technical specs and sales points. Highly interactive exams and quizzes on the site had to be converted to flat HTML “multiple choice test” forms.

    We made all these changes to a second version of the site, allowing the manufacturer a “before and after”. They were not pleased that the site lost everything unique about it, and that it was not going to be the effective training tool they had a mere three months ago… all because it had to be redesigned for an audience that would never use it. They decided to not continue down this path, and keep the site as it was.

  16. MercuryPDX says:

    @KernelM: For a mostly flat text site like this, yes…. accessibility will not really take anything away.

    Websites that rely on Flash content, javascript, CSS or any kind of layout positioning without tables, and certain ASP/Active X protocols to deliver content… not so much.

    It’s not a question of being lazy. It’s a question of whether or not you want to design your site for a large audience or cater to a much smaller one.

  17. Bay State Darren says:

    At first I thought this sounded silly, too: the blind complaining about the inherently visual nature of websites. But the fact is, if the target.com offers better prices than the stores and it cannot be used by blind persons, then they wind up paying extra for their merchandise and that’s pretty unfair. I know a lot of Consumerist users compare web vs. in-store prices for better savings. Imagine if you lost that option.

    My solution [and Target, if you read this and use it, you owe me lawyers' fees]: Since most stores, and I’m assuming Target as well, don’t price-match their own websites, they should make exceptinos for the blind. It doesn’t get them the convenience of online shopping, but they at least get the savings.

  18. crazylady says:

    @Dibbler: Given how almost irrationally simple it is to design an accessible site, or at least a more-accessible degraded version of the site, the lawsuit makes a bit of sense. Technologies for the blind aren’t back in the 20th century with braille (well, you can go that way if you want, but why bother if you have screenreaders), and with css, you can do a lot nowadays to make your content more accessible. And if you’re really stuck, nothing says you can’t create a separate more-accessible section. I mean, hey look, Amazon has an iPhone version of the site. It can’t be that much more impossible to design something just as simple. It’s not like Target is hand-coding every single product page. That being said, Amazon is surprisingly blind-friendly, and made a public point of doing so (see [www.webstandards.org] and might I add, was not that much of a nightmare to begin with).

    @rmz: Nobody said you had to sacrifice the fancypants ajax/flash stuff for the blind. Blind accessibility is important, as it means a lot more than just being accessible to the blind, but people with technology that isn’t current enough (think browser support) or for text-based uses (like..search engine indexing…). Hey, all your ajax and flash go out the window if they’re disabled in the browser (flash ads are REALLY annoying!). What do you do as fallback? A blank page? Something demanding your potential customers to upgrade or fuck off?

    @FLConsumer: For what it’s worth, there’s also such a thing as braille for music. You know, cause blind people like to play the piano and guitar and all those other instruments. It’s entirely possible to accommodate screenreaders for almost any website out there. On the other hand, Six Flags can throw all the money they have at all their coasters, but they will never be able to do anything about accommodating your heart problems. Six Flags is impossible, site accessibility is not. If it was impossible to make even the simplest of changes, how come there actually are a bunch of accessible sites out there? I’ve had some disgusting times trying to navigate hotmail with Jaws (a screenreader), but it was bearable. I can’t even begin to imagine what kind of special hell Target’s website is to do something like this.

    @DeeJayQueue: Some retailers are pretty accessible, and if you have the patience, even an ugly site like Newegg. And for what it’s worth, java has an accessibility API.

    @theWolf: Cause blind people can legally drive. Riiiiiight.

    @serreca: No, it would be suing a business controlling transportation up and down on the mountain for having stairs but no elevator as the sole method to get up there.

    @MissJ: So the idea is to create standards that promote accessibility, to get developers to create standards-compliant code, and then to make sure it’s accessible. And by accessible, I mean in a way where most people with disabilities can use the site. It’s really not as visual as you think.

  19. clickertrainer says:

    It can be amazing AND accessible — check out JKRowling.com, click on “enter accessible version”.

  20. crazylady says:

    @MercuryPDX: while I completely understand your post about a misuse of section 508 compliance, Target is not a government site, but rather a retailer. For a bit more work (is their entire site Flash? Even if it is flash, it can still be accessible…is their entire site movies? no. is the entire site ajax? no.) to get some more satisfied customers, is it that impossible?

    Positioning without tables, CSS, javascript and flash are not thrown out the window when accessibility is concerned. I’ve designed sites just fine with those and still had them be perfectly accessible. That being said, I still used tables for tabular data, and I had a stylesheet switching thing, one for users to change (high/higher contrast, large type), and one for braille/!screen devices.

  21. MercuryPDX says:

    @clickertrainer: The accessible version of this site appears to only be coded for the hearing impaired (essentially, the sound is closed captioned).

    It would not pass the visual impairment requirements regarding multimedia. Since the site is built in Flash, a screen reader like JAWS or WebbIE would not be able to provide blind people any kind of audio feedback to what they need to do or where they are clicking.

  22. crazylady says:

    @MercuryPDX: For what it’s worth, there’s also a high contrast text-only version on jkrowling.com. That’s definitely better than nothing.

  23. MercuryPDX says:

    @crazylady: For a bit more work to get some more satisfied customers, is it that impossible?

    No, not at all impossible. I just find it ridiculous that a government/federal requirement is being applied to a retailer in the private sector. While it would be nice for Target to be section 508 compliant, there’s no law requiring that they MUST do so.

  24. crazylady says:

    @MercuryPDX: I am fully aware of that. Like I just commented on ars:

    Although I only see two big arguments in favor of Target here (in that this isn’t a .gov and that they have other methods of purchasing products (e.g. phone or brick and mortar)), I don’t otherwise.

  25. DimitroffVodka says:

    I think instead of just suing them that if they would just explained to Target they were losing all potential blind customers online. By doing this they were losing money this could be resolved much easier. Everyone is just too sue happy. I am unhappy so I am going to sue.

  26. clickertrainer says:

    @mercurypdx — did you try it in a reader? I did a while back (right after MAX in 2005) using WindowEyes. The reader picked everything up. They may have revised the site since, but at MAX the developers stated that one of Rowling’s main requirements was that the site be completely accessible.

  27. MercuryPDX says:

    @clickertrainer: The link took me to a full screen site with a Flash movie in the middle.

    As crazylady pointed out though, there is a reader-friendly text-only version of the site which does satisfy the requirements.

  28. clickertrainer says:

    @MercuryPDX: Yup, that’s the one that I “read”. I’m not saying the site is perfectly accessible for everyone, and I’m not saying it was cheap to create, only that it is possible to make Flash accessible for many. While many Flash-driven websites are not accessible, Flash itself is not to blame, programmers are.
    I do not work for Adobe :)

  29. @clickertrainer: Thank you!

    It might not be easy to make a web site that the blind can use but it is not impossible.

    @serreca: No, it’s like someone in a wheelchair suing Target because their stores aren’t wheelchair accessible. The person in the wheelchair isn’t demanding that Target give him the ability to walk, they’re saying they should be able to get into the store using the wheelchair. The blind person isn’t demanding Target to give her sight, she saying that the tool she uses because she’s blind ought to work with their web site.

  30. Chicago7 says:

    @MercuryPDX:

    Wouldn’t it have been simpler to just make a separate “blind” web site?

    Call it “Target.blind.com” for example.

  31. Chicago7 says:

    @DimitroffVodka:

    I’m unhappy about this whole deal, too. Who can we sue? Let’s make it a class-action suit!

  32. clickertrainer says:

    @Chicago7: You can make a separate site, but it is best to design the site so that, for most, the site can be viewed in its entirety. You can do a lot with Flash and CSS. It is definitely extra work, but it can and should be done. Why drive away customers?

    OTOH, and locally, a popular kids basketball facility has just shut down. They lost a lawsuit from a disabled man who said they did not provide adequate access to the second floor.
    ([www.kcra.com])