Target Hit - But is it a Bullseye?

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 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.

Posted by Ian on Monday, September 11, 2006


  1. So says Sherry

    Yes,I believe that any organisation that elects to utilise the internet for marketing or promotional persuits should fully accomadate every potential customer.
    Having said that I also believe that to make existing organisations liable for any ommissions in their web sites prior to clearly defined lawful standards having been established is just as negletfull a behaviour as the origonal lack of audience consideration by an offending site.
    In essence the law should be determined and minimum standards established and then and only then can any law be enforcable
    Just my opinion

    Added September 28, 2006 at 9:32 pm

  2. So says Steven Capp

    I don’t believe that all organizations that elect to use the Internet for marketing purposes and to provide an extra medium for getting their product out there should be forced to make their site completely accessible to ALL viewers. From a web developers point of view, implementing accessibility for ALL users can be a costly and time consuming task and in many cases can limit the design of the site.

    Having said this, i do believe that there should be exceptions. Government services websites (e.g. Centrelink etc) and banks and financial institutions should on the otherhand be made to comply to accessibility rules and regulations.

    I do not believe that organizations that choose not to make their websites accessible to the handicapped etc should be prosecuted for non compliance.

    Perhaps i am being selfish and naive in thinking this, but it is simply my opinion.

    Added October 22, 2006 at 11:54 pm

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