Summary: Target case now open for class action and every blind person in the U.S. who has tried to access Target.com can become a plaintiff.
Summary of summary: Target, you’re screwed.
[Well, maybe … possibly, but I am not a lawyer, usual disclaimers apply]
Many times in the past when explaining to people why accessibility is important, I’ve rolled out the legal argument – why it’s something that you should do if you want to be on the right side of the law, whether that’s the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the States or the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) in UK. But when asked for examples, I’ve always had to pull out the Australian Sydney 2000 Olympics case .. and that’s about it. The legal threat has always felt just that – a threat, not a reality. To that extent, I don’t tend to lead with the legal reason now, instead focusing on the business benefits of getting accessibility right and the moral reasons. But that may be about to change.
Early last year, a California resident brought a legal case against Target.com because of their web site’s inaccessibility. It looked for a while like it might ‘quietly go away’ as has often happened in the past, mainly because Target made some changes and also Amazon announced that it would be working with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), a move which seemed out of character to many - and the significance of this is that Amazon, often touted as an example of inaccessible page design, is powering Target.com’s e-commerce capabilities. In short, it looked like Amazon might be cozying up with ‘the enemy’ to appear to be doing the right thing. Well, that’s largely irrelevant now, as it doesn’t appear to have helped in the long run.
The Target case has reared its head once more and the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has certified the NFB lawsuit against Target as a class action and ruled that websites like Target.com are required, under California state law, to be accessible. This means that any blind user in the states who has tried to access Target.com can join the class action which must, surely, spell a whole heap of trouble for Target. It’s the test case that the accessibility community knew had to happen one day – and indeed were welcoming it – while the business world tried the old emu avoidance method by sticking their head in the ground and hoping they don’t get caught. Or is that ostriches? Matt May wrote the following on the topic in February last year:
But I’ve also seen cases where it’s a legal game of chicken: some companies refuse to comply with a legal mandate that they feel doesn’t clearly apply to them. They’re gambling that the cost of being found guilty of non-compliance is lower than that of conforming to a standard that may not apply to them. This strategy falls apart like a house of cards as soon as one of them is found liable. And it’s a tactic I find particularly odious when they’re consciously acting to keep users with disabilities out.
So this one looks like it’s going to run and run and not, as Target might have hoped, quietly go away. One question to ask at this stage is how this might spill over to other countries – will UK look at this case and take it as a precedent? Like I said, I’m not a lawyer, so if you are please add your thoughts in the comments.