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Judge In Target.com Case: Accessibility Laws Cover Websites

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA--In a ruling that could help blind people across the country and elsewhere, a federal judge ruled Wednesday that businesses could be sued if they fail to make their websites accessible.

The decision means that blind UC Berkeley student Bruce Sexton, Jr. and the National Federation of the Blind of California can move forward in their discrimination suit against Target Corporation.

The non-profit law firm Disability Rights Advocates filed the class action suit on behalf of the plaintiffs in February. They claimed that Target.com violates the California Unruh Civil Rights Act and the California Disabled Persons Act, along with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act because it is virtually inaccessible to blind Californians.

Specifically, the plaintiffs said the website lacks "alt text" tags, which are words that can be written into webpage code below graphic images so that computerized screen readers can describe those images out loud to blind web surfers. The website also lacks image maps, which allow blind users to move to different places on the site, and requires users to use a mouse to complete any transaction, which means that they must have a sighted person help them.

Target's lawyers had asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing that such civil rights laws only apply to physical premises and not the Internet.

Judge Marilyn Hall Patel said Wednesday that the accessibility laws cover all services a company provides, including its website.

"This ruling is a great victory for blind people throughout the country," said NFB President Dr. Marc Maurer in a press statement. "We are pleased that the court recognized that the blind are entitled to equal access to retail websites."

"I hope that I can soon shop online at Target.com just like anyone else," said Sexton, who also is president of the California Association of Blind Students. "I believe that millions of blind people like me can use the Internet just as easily as do the sighted, if the website is accessible."

The suit asked the court to force Target to stop violating the laws, to declare that Target is operating its website in a manner that discriminates against users who are blind or have visual disabilities, and to pay damages to the plaintiffs.

Legal Precedent Set for Web Accessibility (Disability Rights Advocates)
National Federation of the Blind v. Target (Alameda County Superior Court)

Copyright 2006 Inonit Publishing
Article reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express international disability rights news service. Please do not reprint, republish or forward without permission.


Here's a comment I left on the geek-site Slashdot. (buried among 700 others.)

I am a rank-beginner at site design, but from my pouring over books to help me learn, most of the mentions of accessibility say that it made it much easier to get "ranked" on search engines, because search engins read text like us, not pictures. Since I wanted Google to send people to our site, I added little labels to our images and then checked our work on the online disability-checkers like the ones I found here: http://www.anybrowser.org/campaign/abtools.html#te sting [anybrowser.org]

Not like it's the only thing, but we got good ratings on Google soon after. So it didn't hurt us at all.

What I want to know is: WHY DOES TARGET WANT TO PREVENT ALL BLIND PEOPLE FROM SHOPPING ON THEIR WEBSITE? Are they stupid? The next step after (why wait?) a lawsuit is you'll have a hundred blind adults and kids with canes and aide-dogs chaining closed the doors to your store. Just showing everybody else what it's like to not be allowed to shop there. Target can get rid of them by sending them to jail, their choice. But they'll do it in person, on TV, not just while blind folks sit home on their keyboards because some corporation figures it'll save a buck.

Kind of a pain to make it on the bus down to the actual store, but if they won't sell to me online, I guess we'll be "seeing" them in person.

This case isn't decided; I hope to hear more about it.

peace b


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