Blind can't see Target: questions about the lawsuit

Target (the megastore) is being sued by the National Federation for the Blind for not making their web-site compatible with software for the visually impaired and thus (according to the suit) violating the Americans With Disabilities Act. Target has since updated their site, but the suit has not been dropped and has been given the go ahead as a class action suit. (I’m not sure what damages are sought.)
Google News Cites

Some questions:

1- In your opinion, does this case have merit (especially now that Target has updated the site)?
2- While I can understand AWDA regulations being enforced at a bricks and mortar establishment (among other things there’s the danger/safety considerations of not being compliant), should their online auxiliary (which I can’t believe does anywhere near the volume of business of Target’s stores) be held to the same guidelines? Internet shopping wasn’t even a consideration when the AWDA was passed, after all.
3- Could a blogger- let’s assume one of the big-ones like Andrew Sullivan (who does sell merchandise and accept donations on his site) be held to the same standards if this suit is successful? For that matter, could a publishing house be held to the same standards if they do not release a bestseller in large-print or audio?

You needn’t be a lawyer to answer- just curious.

I’m of the opinion that the Nat’l Federation for the Blind should have handled this without litigation and that they are doing themselves and others covered under the AWDA a disservice. Shopping through Amazon or other visual software compliant retailers while issuing a press-release and having an open letter to Target and other online retailers whose sites are inaccessible to the visually impaired on their own web-site would have been a far better and less- I hate to use the term but I will- whiney resolution and gotten more public sympathy than the involvement of lawyers.

I’m not an Ayn Rand “freemarket capitalism is the greatest good” objectivist by any means, but I really do think that this is something that should be decided by taking your business elsewhere. But I could be wrong and would like to read what others think.

Wait, why the hell should they be entitled to Target’s wares? Target is not government owned, as near as I can tell, and they have the right to refuse service to anyone. That includes the blind, by accident or by choice.

My point being, where does one draw the line? For a megastore like Target, I’m guessing it isn’t too hard to implement these changes. But is every store in existence supposed to work with this stuff? Why the hell?

The NFB filed a similar suit against AOL a few years back, but it was settled out of court. They may be trying to use this one to establish the precedent that they didn’t get from that one.

I agree that shopping at the Target Web site is not a RIGHT, it’s a privilege. Target is not government owned.

If the NFB sent out flyers and emails asking people to boycott, or called us or rang doorbells and shouted it from the mountaintops…awesome. I might lend an ear to their plight.

But suing? That’s just not cool. It’s not right.

Do People Without JavaScript sue them? People Against Flash? How about People Without Enough Money To Shop At Target?

They have just as much “right” to as blind folks do.

So sad :frowning:

A-freakin’-men! I have a quasi-employee who doesn’t even have internet access at the time! Should I inform him that he has a feasible lawsuit on his hands because,, et al are conducting a business from which he himself is excluded??

No, the right to refuse service is only if it is not for a discriminatory reason. Do you think Target could legally refuse to sell to African-Americans? Women?

But to the OP’s questions -

  1. I don’t understand the grounds for this. The most relevant requirements (Section 508) appear to be limited to the government, and specifically appear not to apply even to businesses that are contractors/ do business with the government. I’m not familiar with the specifics of the California laws. They might provided clearer grounds for a lawsuit.

  2. I do think this should be addressed in law, perhaps based on the size of the business or for federal contractors. Online shopping is probably of huge benefit to the visually impaired, who can’t drive, and enabling it could save on public services. Unfortunately, the ADA was passed right before the Internet emerged. My perception of the intent of the law is that, had the Internet been in wide use, it would have been included. The restrictions on new construction are much more costly than the website requirements would need to be.

  3. Virtually all civil rights laws start with some number of employees or volume of business. Most sole proprietor bloggers are exempt from such laws, this would presumably be the same. Regarding print material, there are volunteer organizations that record material for the blind. So there is a different precedent there. I could see compelling a company to allow their material to be recorded, but probably not to the extent of making them produce the recording.

I’m not a lawyer, but I believe that the law here in California requires businesses to make reasonable accomodations to people with handicaps. Usually, this manifests in stores being required to have wheel chair ramps and elevators, if they’re multi-story. Not sure how specific the language is in regards to internet commerce.

Are any of the businesses covered by the ADA government owned enterprises that have some sort of affirmative duty to come pick you up at your house so you can shop there? Of course not. But they do have a duty to make reasonable accomodations to make their places accessible to people with disabilities.

Now, Target doesn’t have to come to your house and give you a computer to purchase things from with, but if a blind person such as my sister comes to with a reasonably up to date computer and software, why in the hell shouldn’t that site take reasonable steps (often as simple as tagging photos or buttons with the label or not using stupid Flash-pulldowns) to be usable in the same way that a physical store would be?

Every decision to make things accessible has benefits to disabled people and trade-offs in terms of economic cost. If we’re willing to force a company tens of millions of dollars to make their physical stores accessible to diabled people, why shouldn’t we make them spend $10,000 to make their website accessible? Our society has looked at the cost-benefit analysis, said it’s acceptable at some level, and the cost to make a website accessible is far below that cost-benefit level.

If you accept the ADA at all, why would you not think that Target had a similar duty to make their web-store accessible?

I just don’t think it’s a matter for the courts. Like I said, I’d be all for a boycott of if the NFB brought the issue to me. But suing over such a matter doesn’t make Target look bad, to me it makes the NFB look bad.

I think it is a stupid business move on Target’s part to not have accessibility as part of their Web site plan from day 1. They are a multi-million-dollar corporation and certainly had the money to do it right the first time. I am very glad that Target changed their site, I just wish the NFB didn’t drag it into court.

Frankly, a boycott would have gotten the attention of many more people and won the ears of many more people - and lost more money for Target and any other non-compliant retailer - than, as Sampiro put it, the “whiny” reaction of suing.

I’m just not for un-needed lawsuits. Not for spilling hot coffee, not for giving me cancer, and not for being stupid about your Web business plan.

If the site has been put into compliance, I don’t see any point in the suit.

It’s a moot point. Making a website ADA compliant is quite easy and only requires some basic coding (alt tags*, special consideration when using tables, etc.) that should be there in the first place.

In addition, “separate but equal” is allowed: all you need is to put a one-pixel image at the top of the page with an alt tags of “Click for text only page” or whatever. Screen readers will display the text, while those using regular software won’t even know it’s there.

There’s no excuse not to be compliant – it’s sheer laziness if a site is not.

Moot point. Most blogs are ADA-compliant. And if he’s selling things, it’s simple to make them compliant simply by putting alt tags

No, since the publisher isn’t a retailer. You can’t force a manufacturer to make their product compliant; the point of the law is to allow full access, but not make every product compliant.

*And alt tag gives text when you mouseover a graphic in MSIE (like the SDMB title at the top of the page – you’ll note the title is given). Screen readers can read these, and it’s considered good practice to include them.

From this article:

Now that is absolutely ridiculous.

Well, to me it comes down to this: do you think the ADA is a good idea or not?

I don’t have a time to engage in an entire GD over the ADA, but if you generally think it’s a good idea, then you have to support the National Federation for the Blind’s actions here.

There’s nothing “whiny” about a lawsuit. Laws, courts, and lawsuits are how civilized people resolve differences, and the means by which disabled people address non-compliance with the statutes is via lawsuits. As far as I can tell, they aren’t going for money here, they’re goign for compliance, although that “stick” needs to be there lest companies decide to simply ignore the law.

It’s far from clear that everything is now fine in terms of Target’s compliance, and all of the reportage conveys this. From the AP:

“Judge Patel’s order Friday noted that Target has modified its Web site some since the suit’s filing to make the site more accessible to the blind. Target claimed the suit should therefore be dismissed, but Judge Patel ruled against that argument.”

The point here also is not just to create animosity against Target. I don’t want Target to suffer a huge economic loss here and I don’t want people to stop shopping there, I just want them to take the basic and very cheap steps to bring their site into compliance with the ADA. In my humble opinion, organizing a boycott over this situation would be stupid. I don’t think that Target is a consistently bad actor in situations like this, and the idea here isn’t just to make Target’s site accessible. It’s to help create a clear legal precdent that companies need to make their sites compliant.

This ought to make decision making for firms easier. Instead of, “well, we can pay a programer $5,000 to add alt-tags to our site” against the unlikely event of a boycott and a minimal loss in revenue versus a clear legal mandate to go ahead and make the site compliant.

Again, making an accessible site is neither expensive nor hard.

Indeed. Also from the top of that article:

"Editor’s note: The article incorrectly states that attorney Mazen Basrawi estimates 600,000 plaintiffs belong in the class and could seek a total of $2.4 billion. We regret any error. "

Certainly less than $5000. Anyone who does web design should know about the requirements, and it only adds a minute or two to any web page (assuming HTML). Hell, most content management systems (used by firms to manage their web page) have some compliance built in. The rest is just training.

If I’m stealing money every day from the bank, and one day the police catch me, would you say the prosecution of me is moot if I promise not to rob banks any more?

Of course not, so I think the only perspective from which this makes sense is if Target just made an honest mistake. I don’t think we have any evidence either way on that. But even if they did make an honest mistake, we can’t structure our legal system around that principle. If this were the rule of law, then no business would become compliant until someone with organized power complains. We don’t want disabled people to have to threaten legal action before a company follows the law.

From the judge’s order:


The law applies to all web sites where federal tax dollars are used to maintain/support such sites. (Some states are using Section 508 for their own state laws and state web sites.) In fact, Section 508 is merely a subset of the greater WCAG 1.0 accessibility requirements under W3C web standards. WCAG 1.0 is used as the basis for web accessibility laws used by other countries. WCAG 2.0 is in draft form and should clarify current web accessibility issues.

The Target lawsuit is based on the Americans with Disabilities Act. Different horse.

This is not the first time ADA is being used to challenge private web sites. While New York State AG, now Gov. Spitzer, contended ADA applied to all web sites doing business within New York State. He settled with two prominent commercial web sites.

ADA is federal law. Those wheelchair ramps, disability buttons, larger toilet facilities may be a result of California state law, but ADA is requiring it across the board. Something like 20 percent of the US population (around 60 million people) meet the classification of being disabled in some form or another. ADA is an attempt to address those disabilities. What is still foggy is whether ADA applies to electronic public accommodation as well as bricks and mortar accommodation as well.

Actually, adding ALT attributes is a small part toward web accessibility and compliance. Section 508 and WCAG 1.0 are quite detailed as to what is needed. Making and creating web sites to meet the Section 508 requirement (or more accurately, WCAG 1.0 for non-government sites) is quite easy to do. The cost outlay is significantly less than installing accessible toilet facilities, but its benefits are massive.

Target blew it by ignoring the initial stages of the lawsuit. They made it worse for themselves by making a half-hearted gestured toward web accessibility and calling it complete, when a simple accessibility test and retrofit was all that was needed to achieve compliance.

There is a bugaboo in the entire web accessibility issue. Almost all concern is directed towards physical disability and access. Yet true web accessibility encompasses cognitive access as well. That’s why CAPTCHAs and similar mechanisms do not meet current accessibility requirements.

Moved from IMHO to GD.

Hell, half the time CAPTCHAs make a site inaccessible to people who CAN see…

I was a supervisor in a call center for several years, and I’ve never seen such egregious abuse of something that was supposed to be helpful as I saw of the ADA. It was bad enough that employees practically lined up outside the HR office to ask for special accommodations for imagined disabilities, but local activists actually helped them do it. They sometimes disrupted operations of a team for days while we inconvenienced the rest of our employees in order to “accommodate” the overweight, the out-of-shape and the just plain lazy. The worst of it was when we denied employment to a man with Tourette’s Syndrome. I am not kidding – Tourette’s Syndrome, in a call center! We actually got sued over that one.

No, the suit against Target is not warranted, and never was. Accessible bathrooms and wheelchair-friendly street crossings are great, but the abuse of ADA has gotten out of hand.