Target has settled a class action lawsuit with the National Federation of the Blind over accessibility complaints with Target.com. Despite the law being unclear as to whether the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to websites, the company will pay a substantial fee and update its web site to make it accessible to the blind.
In February 2006, Bruce Sexton Jr., a student at the University of California-Berkeley and president of the California Association of Blind Students, sued Target because its web site was inaccessible to the blind. Filed in conjunction with the National Federation of the Blind, the suit was used as to spotlight many corporate sites that don’t play well—if at all—with screen reading technology.
Web technologies and techniques have been advancing, but Sexton and the NFB are worried that the blind are being left behind. “What I hope is that Target and other online merchants will realize how important it is to reach 1.3 million people in this nation and the growing Baby Boomer population who will also be losing vision,” said Sexton.
In September 2006, a judge ruled that the lawsuit could go forward, further elevating the discussion about website accessibility. Specifically at issue in Target’s case is a lack of “alt” tags throughout its site, tags which are used by screen reading technology to help disabled users navigate web sites. Target tried to argue that its web site is not covered by the ADA, a civil rights law passed in 1990, saying that only its physical stores were.
A similar lawsuit the NFB brought against AOL in 1999 over similar accessibility issues, also citing the ADA, never went to trial because AOL decided to comply and make its site fully compatible with screen reading technology.
Ultimately, Target changed its stance and settled with the NFB. The terms, detailed at NFBTargetLawsuit.com, require Target to pay $6 million to a “Damages Fund” to be allocated to members of the class action suit. Target must also make its website more accessible and pay up to $15,000 of the NFB’s costs per training session for Target employees to learn the requirements and techniques for accessibility design.
While it may be true that the ADA does not account for cyberspace yet, Target’s settlement with the NFB sets a precedent for corporations to assess the accessibility of their websites. With the settlement, the NFB can take its battle to other corporations and possibly the rest of the Internet.