A federal judge has decided to let the National Federation for the Blind (NFB) proceed with its lawsuit demanding that Target make its Web site more accessible to the visually impaired. The judge rejected Target's argument that the Americans With Disabilities Act applies only to its brick-and-mortar outlets, ruling that online stores also are "places of public accommodation."
According to the NFB, Target has not been accommodating enough. Although the company has added "Alt-text" to pictures on its site so that automated readers can describe them to blind shoppers, Advertising Age reports, you still have to use a mouse or other pointing device to buy stuff, and the site still includes "inaccessible image maps and graphical features that make it difficult for blind users to navigate it." The story quotes an expert, Jan Schmidt, who says it's cheaper to start from scratch than to make an existing Web site accessible. "Most sites can add minimum accessibility, but to take on a huge website and overhaul it could be very cost prohibitive," she says. "This case is groundbreaking because there [haven't] been a lot of incentives up to this point for companies to do it because you can't get companies to just do something unless they have to legally."
If so, this suggests that blind people either don't buy much or generally seek assistance when they shop. Otherwise, businesses that catered to blind shoppers would have a competitive advantage over those that didn't. Assuming there just isn't enough revenue at stake to justify a complete Web overhaul, why should Target bear the cost of making its site accessible? If our legislators have decided that helping the blind and otherwise disabled is a Good Thing, they should have the guts to allocate taxpayer money for the purpose, instead of imposing unfunded mandates on businesses.
Schmidt claims blind-friendly design is "a fundamental best practice that should be incorporated into the production process. It's almost ridiculous these days that it doesn't get used." Schmidt, by the way, is the "owner of Collaborint, a San Francisco firm that specializes in website-development accessibility." In other words, she stands to profit from the ADA's unfunded mandates, which would forcibly transfer money to people like her from businesses that otherwise might not be interested in her services.
[Thanks to Terrorific for the link.]