Law May Require Websites To Be Accessible To Disabled Users

You may recall a lawsuit that was brought forth by the National Federation of the Blind against Target and Target.com’s lack of accessibility to visually impaired internet users. Loren covered this issue last year over at Search Engine Journal:

The suit is centered around Target.com’s lack of ALT text in its site’s images. Wonder who’s doing their SEO, as ALT tags (or ALT Attributes) are a very important part of all around site usability and relevancy…

The suit specifically claims the following lacks of accessibility on Target.com

  • Lack of alt text
  • images maps that neither have alt text or a functional equivalent on the page
  • requirement for a mouse to perform various functions on the site

An article posted today at The Register reports:

US District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel in the Court for the Northern District of California had previously ruled that the inaccessibility of Target.com impeded full and equal enjoyment of goods and services offered in Target stores pursuant to the ADA. She has now ruled that the case is eligible for class action status and she rejected an effort by Target to have the case thrown out

The outcome of this case may set a new standard for website accessibility in the United States:

Struan Robertson, a technology lawyer with Pinsent Masons and editor of OUT-LAW.COM, said the latest ruling could have a significant impact on web businesses in the US.

“We’ve got a really simple anti-discrimination law in the UK that basically means all sites must be accessible to disabled users, but America has never had such a straightforward rule,” he said. “There has always been confusion about the duty that US websites face and this case could finally change that.”

If the NFB claim succeeds against Target on state laws, there is a strong chance that many other businesses will be affected, he said. “The California laws could have the leverage to force businesses across America to build accessible sites, whether they’re pure-play dot-coms or businesses that also offer high street stores,” he said.

TechCrunch’s coverage of the issue notes:

Whilst the basics as easy enough: tagging images and making sure that sites can be accessed through text based browsers, the use of Ajax and other means of scripting sites means that the traditional html tagging may not either be available, or more difficult to implement.

The fact of the matter is that there are a TON of websites that exist which are not accessible by the blind. Whether they are flash-based, use ajax or other types of scripting, or simply don’t apply alt text and other basic elements of usability. A huge shoe company comes to mind…

I think it sucks that technology does not yet allow cool things like flash and ajax to be accessible to everybody… including even the search engines. However, it is only fair to the disabled that an accessible version should exist.

The outcome of this case could force a huge change and set a precedent in website usability/accessibility… either that or trigger a lot of lawsuits.

Check it,
—kid disco

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