In the accessibility world, a lot of us bemoan that fact that despite the various different pieces of legislation and the guidelines around web accessibility, there are very few examples of any company or organisation ever really being screwed for not complying. Sure, there was the Sydney Olympics case and there was the … uh. Um, nice weather we’re having, isn’t it? Anyway, the point being that we as an ‘industry’ (if that is the right term) have been saying for years that if you mess up on accessibility you could be sued, but the longer it didn’t happen, the more people thought it was a case of ‘cry wolf’.
I certainly don’t want companies to be unfairly vicitimised or for individuals in these companies to be picked out for criticism just to prove a point, but likewise the legislation is there for a reason. One company has just found that, in the US at least, the legislation may yet have an affect - in California, the Target.com case has entered a new stage. In this case, the plaintiff is ‘all blind Americans’ - it’s a class action with Bruce Sexton, a college student, the NFB (National Federation of the Blind) and NFB California as named plaintiffs - and the case has resurfaced because Target’s request for the case to be thrown out has been rejected.
The NFB’s press release suggests a victory for the plaintiffs, but it’s not a clear victory:
Explaining the ramification of the ruling, Mazen M. Basrawi, Equal Justice Works Fellow at Disability Rights Advocates, noted that: “the court clarified that the law requires that any place of public accommodation is required to ensure that it does not discriminate when it uses the internet as a means to enhance the services it offers at a physical location.”
It doesn’t say “the ADA must include web sites” but rather (paraphrasing here) “it should not exclude outlets other than the physical premises”. This is a bit more woolly than the press release might have you believe.
So, the case is not over yet. Target may not have had it thrown out, but they have not yet lost the battle overall. Regardless, there’s a lesson for any US web site owners who may have uttered statements like “Ah, they’re just full of hot air - no-one’s ever actually been sued for this” in the past. I imagine that the big retailers’ legal departments are, right now, preparing some fairly detailed question sheets for their web teams to find out just how vulnerable they are.