Target's Blind Spot

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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.]

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  1. I work for a large tech company, and ever since this Target story broke, I have used it constantly to browbeat internal teams into following accessibility and Section 508 guidelines. Nothing like the threat of a large, costly, and embarrasing lawsuit to get people to follow the rules…
    I will offer a half-hearted defense of Schmidt’s comments: while much of accessibility requirements are, granted, only necessary for those who need to use screen readers and other assistive technology when using a web site, some of those rules and requirements do fall under general usability best practices, resulting in sites that are easier to read and use for sighted readers as well as blind. It’s not all about enriching consultants; with a little training, the same people who write the regular web site can write the accessible one. Also, it is much, much easier to do it when you start, not fix it later, in which case you don’t need expensive outside help: some basic training for IT skips most of that. It’s when companies call in for an after-factory install, so to speak, that consultants start buying BMWs.

  2. As a person who constantly nags his clients about standards-compliance in Web site design, I can’t wait until the usability abortion known as MySpace gets wind of this decision.

    And government mandate or no, torrentprime raises a valid point: businesses which actually think about usability and accessibility before they begin construction end up with sites that are better for everyone, sighted or otherwise. It frequently reduces bandwidth consumption, too.

    Personally (read: anecdotally), most of the foot-dragging I’ve encountered hasn’t come from the business folk; it’s come from IT dorks who think Web technology stopped advancing in 1998.

  3. In 20 years, people will look at web developers the way people look at COBOL programmers today.

  4. Disclamer: I am for the most part deaf as a doorknob.
    I wonder how long it will be untill the “blind” and “sightless” bunch sue General Motors due to the fact the car dealships are difficult for blind users to navigate them.

    Here comes joe screaming “straw man!”

  5. I can’t wait till all the kids diagnosed with “disabilities” like ADD and ADHD and all the other made-for-profit non-problems come of age and start suing to have websites use shorter sentences to accomodate their attention-spans, and use simpler language to accomodate their reading levels.

  6. REG: “What’s the point of fighting for his right to have babies when he can’t have babies?”

    FRANCIS: “It is symbolic of our struggle against oppression.”

  7. Let’s just take it to the logical conclusion and eliminate descrimination on the basis of intelligence and ability as well.

  8. I wonder how long it will be untill the “blind” and “sightless” bunch sue General Motors due to the fact the car dealships are difficult for blind users to navigate them.

    I’ve always thought it a little odd that drive-thru ATMs have braille signage, myself.

  9. Oh, enough already. I fully agree that public buildings–like courthouses, for example, or libraries paid for by tax dollars–should be accessible to all citizens, including the handicapped. But Websites? Christ on a stick.

    I used to be addicted to this online timed puzzle game that made some warning sounds when your time was almost up. How long before some deaf-rights organization sues the game company over the advantage hearing players have over deaf ones?

  10. Is it April 1st already? …then this must be a monkey fishing episode, right? …Monty Python fan fiction?

  11. Get ready to see every web buisness that doesn’t absolutly, critically, need to be in the U.S., to move to other countries.

  12. Our government’s terrorist warning system discriminates against the color-blind.

  13. Just imagine if you took all the energy these “look-at-how-pitiful-I-am-but-don’t-feel-sorry-for-me-because-I-am-just-as-equal-as-you-but-even-though-we’re-equal-you-still-need-to-accomadate-my-specific-need(s)” losers and applied it toward technologies that repaired, rehealed, or in some other way cured blindness.

    I guess they’ve got the blinders on and got tunnel-vision.

  14. I’ve always thought it a little odd that drive-thru ATMs have braille signage, myself.

    That’s because it would cost more to make special non-braille keys for drive-throughs rather than just sticking in the same keys that they already make for walk-ups.

  15. I’m in the web design/hosting business, so I expect some of our customers – the ones with sites that are actually important to their businesses – will go for accessibility reworkings. Others, the ones with sites that are just a web “presence”, will take a hard look at whether they want to continue having web sites at all.

  16. Accessibility isn’t actually all that hard, and if you just have a brochure-ware site, it’s generally an hour of a consultant’s time to get it up to snuff.

    Where it does get expensive are the consultants who conflate various definitions of accessibility and comflate accessibility with usability and standards-compliance. You can meet the US Section 508 accessibility guidelines and depend on JavaScript, for example. But that isn’t an “accessible” technique if you want to provide content to people in corporations who have browsers with JavaScript disabled. Reworking your web app to not use JavaScript is much more expensive than making sure the elements it produces are accessible to screen readers.

    And producing table-free W3C-compliant fully semantic and presentation-free XHTML? Yeah, it can help with bandwidth and even helps screen readers be more logical-sounding when they read a page–but it’s not a requirement of any accessibility standard. Yet there are those who speak as if they do.

  17. Speaking of accessibility, whyeverfor does this page expand as if I have my monitor set to display in wide-screen format, when I don’t? I have to scroll left, then back right, to read the frickin’ comments. And why can’t some flavor of Unicode be the default character encoding, so a fellow can use non-standard-English HTML or ASCII characters. Then there’s the fact that I always have to resize the font. And I don’t even have prescription glasses!

    Kevin

  18. Speaking of accessibility, whyeverfor does this page expand as if I have my monitor set to display in wide-screen format, when I don’t? I have to scroll left, then back right, to read the frickin’ comments. And why can’t some flavor of Unicode be the default character encoding, so a fellow can use non-standard-English HTML or ASCII characters. Then there’s the fact that I always have to resize the font. And I don’t even have prescription glasses!

    Kevin

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