Target.com garners accessibility lawsuit

A blind student from U.C. Berkeley is suing the Target Corporation because their website is inaccessible to blind users:

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Alameda County Superior Court, said the upscale discounter’s on-line business, target.com, denies blind Californians equal access to goods and services available to those who can see.

“Target thus excludes the blind from full and equal participation in the growing Internet economy that is increasingly a fundamental part of daily life,” said the suit, which seeks to be certified as a class action and alleges violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and various state statutes.

I knew that eventually some prominent litigation would come to the fore on this issue and that web developers nationwide would start taking the issue of accessibility seriously.

Creating an accessible web presence is not difficult work. It just requires awareness and a little attention to detail. Most sites that adhere to web standards such as using valid and semantic XHTML, CSS layouts, and basic accessibility guidelines like alt text for images and avoiding inaccessible technologies like image maps, Java or Flash objects for navigation and/or content, and deeply-nested table layouts will work just fine for those users that lack vision, who may be unable to use a mouse, or for whatever reason need assistive technologies to surf the web. And in doing so, you usually achieve near-universal access to older browsers, handheld devices, and you give your site a far better chance of doing well in search engine query results.

Blind people access Web sites by using keyboards in conjunction with screen-reading software which vocalizes visual information on a computer screen.

But Target’s site lacks “alt-text,” an invisible code embedded beneath a graphic on the Web site that a screen reader could use to provide a description of the image to a blind person, the suit said.

Target.com also has inaccessible image maps, the suit said. Image maps, when clicked on by sighted users, allow the patron to jump to other destinations within the Web site. But since Target’s site requires the use of a mouse to complete the transaction, it prevents blind people from making purchases online, the suit said.

Wow – it’s really there in print finally! These are real issues that we need to address for the future of our web development practices.

“Blind people have complained about (Target’s Web site) in particular,” Basrawi said. “That one’s gotten a lot of complaints, especially because it’s completely unusable. A blind person cannot make a purchase independently on target.com.”

Are all your web properties accessible?

Update: This is now being covered over at Molly.com, boxofchocolates.ca, and webstandards.org.