Make your web site accessibile, else the courts will force you

It was bound to happen eventually…

SAN FRANCISCO–(BUSINESS WIRE)–A federal district court judge issued two landmark decisions today in a nationwide class action against Target Corporation. First, the court certified the case as a class action on behalf of blind Internet users throughout the country under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Second, the court held that Web sites such as target.com are required by California law to be accessible. (read more)

What makes the site not accessible? Apparently, the lack of ALT tags.

Target’s well-established site (which is powered by Amazon backend technology) is alleged to lack enough “alt” tags to make the site functional, and the site’s image maps are also alleged to be inaccessible. (Target sued by blind student, ars technica, Feb 13 2006)

Apparently, the courts decided that the web site is an extension of the physical store, and both are bound by guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This is where the court is wrong. The closest analogy to a web site is not a physical store; it is a print catalog. A web site is merely a tool to deliver information. Whereas a physical store, open to the general public, is required to be accessible to people with disabilities, a print catalog is not.

Further, does the lack of following accessibility guidelines by Target‘s web developers indicate that Target deliberately denied blind persons access to their products? Hardly. Did anyone consider whether you can call Target’s toll-free number and order merchandise over the phone, , or the fact that you can, as a blind person, go to a Target store and purchase the items wanted?

A company is not denying someone a product or service by not making every purchase medium accessible to everyone. Some companies may not ship merchandise out of state or out of the country; this does not mean they are being exclusionary to out-of-state customers. Some companies may refuse to take phone orders; this does not mean they are being exclusionary to those who are physically unable to move.

Don’t get me wrong — I am all for accessibility, but that is not something that should be a court-ordered mandate for a web site.

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2 thoughts on “Make your web site accessibile, else the courts will force you”

  • I have to agree with the nonsense about the accessibility… BUT let me add the following. When we value a “social network” such as Facebook (which by the way is not that great or designed with the novice in mind) to be worth 10+ billions of dollars, and have a company like Google stock at $580.00+ per share as of today, you have to treat it as something more than a print catalog or media.

    We the public and geeks alike created this mess! We need to look at the complete picture if a site can be worth that much money; it has a responsibility to make it accessible for all and possibly offer an alternative like RSS, and speech options. We have the technology and if the web2.0 idiots stopped the nonsense with the social networking BS and ego-stroking each other we can accomplish such task. So I say this is just the beginning. You will see more of this and I can’t wait to read what next on the list.

  • “… you have to treat it as something more than a print catalog or media.”

    Why? The closest analogy to an e-commerce site is a print catalog with a paper order form in it. There’s no violation of ADA rules because it’s not printed in Braille, is there?

    Ultimately, a company makes a choice in their web site: make it more accessible and open yourself up to a wider audience, or don’t. It should be up to them, not up to a judge who probably doesn’t know the first thing about web technology.

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