Regulation

Target Settles ADA Lawsuit Over Its Website

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The National Federation of the Blind has extracted $6 million from Target as a result of its lawsuit claiming that the chain's website was insufficiently accessible to the visually impaired. The NFB sued under the Americans With Disabilities Act, claiming the website was a "place of public accommodation" that Target was obliged to make accessible. (Target unsuccessfully argued that the law applied only to physical spaces.) In addition to putting $6 million in "an interest-bearing account from which members of the California settlement class can make claims," Target will enter into "a three-year relationship during which the advocacy group will keep testing the site to make sure it is accessible to the blind." The NFB says Target's site used to be notably harder to navigate with text-reading software than competing retailers' sites but has improved substantially in recent years.

As I said when a federal judge rejected Target's motion to dismiss the NFB's lawsuit, I don't think litigation, as opposed to public criticism and competitive pressure, is the appropriate way to address complaints like this one. Even if you accept the premise that the government should make sure all businesses (and websites) are accessible to people with disabilities, I've never understood why business owners, as opposed to taxpayers in general, should bear the financial burden of making them so. If the answer is that the modifications attract enough new business to justify the cost, there would be no need to impose them by law.

[via Josh Xiong]

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  1. The NFB sued under the Americans With Disabilities Act…..which was signed with a flourish and the sounds of trumpets by none other than George Bush the First!

    Once again proving that Republicans are advocates of sound policy and less government intervention.

    Secondarily, defining a website as public accommodation is nothing more than the usual smoke and mirror tricks that bear little resemblance to reality.

  2. How much do you have to do to make your website–a primarily visual medium–accessible to blind people?

    Thankfully I never had to bother with that level of nonsense.

  3. Once again proving that Republicans are advocates of sound policy and less government intervention.

    Thankfully the Democrats have given us an Obama nomination! Now we have the choice between unsound policies and more government intervention, and unsound policies and more government intervention!

  4. Really? Really?? How do you go about making a website accessible to the blind? Text reading software?

    Maybe they should sue Ford for not making a car that blind people can drive.

  5. Silly rabbit. It’s because the disabled are Just Like Us?. And because they’re Just Like Us? they require special accommodation. See? It’s Extortion We Can Believe In?.

  6. Now we have the choice between unsound policies and more government intervention, and unsound policies and more government intervention!

    I plan to leap from an upper story window.

    Donations to give No Star a hand with funeral and medical expenses can be made as follows:

    RTMM
    P.O. Box 2023
    Moses Lake, WA 98837

    Ed Baxter at (509) 771-0070

    Alternatively, you may send donations in care of his church:

    Grace Harvest Church
    313 N Fig st.
    Moses Lake, Wa 98837

    BTW, he’s on his way home right now.

  7. I hope Target resolved this issue by having a synthesized voice come up on mouseover by using Garrett Morris shouting the news for the hearing impared.

  8. If a website is a place of public accomodation, doesn’t that mean every website is subject to this idiotic requirement? What has Reason done to blindify its website?

  9. Silly rabbit. It’s because the disabled are Just Like Us?. And because they’re Just Like Us?

    They’re Handi-capable!

  10. I plan to leap from an upper story window.

    Sorry, but you can’t.

    Since President Obama will be giving us all free health care, and if you don’t successfully complete your suicide, this will place an unfair burden on the taxpayer for your hospitalization as a result.

    Your application for suicide is hereby denied. Have a nice day.

  11. Probably want to make the checks out to Bill Kalles.

  12. Ghasd erlaeru jasdfah jkewruawe jkasdfh, hasdhfal whep[[wer.

  13. Reason can have an alternate site in braille. That’s the ticket!

  14. As I said when a federal judge rejected Target’s motion to dismiss the NFB’s lawsuit, I don’t think litigation, as opposed to public criticism and competitive pressure, is the appropriate way to address complaints like this one.

    Even this is the wrong approach. It accepts the notion that the Website needs to accomodate the blind, not the medium in which they access it. This lawsuit is stupid on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to start.

    The Website doesn’t accomodate the blind user, the computer upon which the user sits accomodates the blind user. The tools for sight-impaired people already exist to aid computer use for the blind. Target’s lawyers should be fired, and never allowed to work in the legal field again. Ever. The officers who made the decision to settle this lawsuit should be voted out on the next shareholder vote, and never be allowed to head up any corporation. Ever.

  15. “How much do you have to do to make your website–a primarily visual medium–accessible to blind people?”

    Seriously, it’s not that hard. Obviously, there’s nothing you can do about the visual elements, like pictures, but blind people are expected to surf the web using software that reads the page out loud.

    A badly designed page can have mis-features that screw with the reading software, such as having key information presented only as a graphic, or transmitting the text in an order that looks fine on a visual page but is hard to understand.

    There are several websites that explain specifically how to design accessible pages, and most modern books on web design take accessibility as a given. Most of the millions of bloggers are publishing their content using templates designed with accessibility in mind.

    (In part this is because many of the design features that screw with blind folks also screw with search engines. If you want your pages indexed well, you’re going to use an accessible design.)

    I don’t think web design decisions belong in a courtroom, but if Target’s site is inaccessible to blind people, it’s because they didn’t try very hard.

  16. “The Website doesn’t accomodate the blind user, the computer upon which the user sits accomodates the blind user. The tools for sight-impaired people already exist to aid computer use for the blind.”

    That’s about right. The way for a website to accomodate the blind user is to accomodate the blind user’s page-reading software. I assume Target wasn’t doing that.

  17. It’s accomModate, for the love of God, accomModate!

  18. How do you go about making a website accessible to the blind? Text reading software?

    It’s really f’ing hard to do right, requiring lots of programmer and tester time, and validation from actual blind people. I doubt there is any website or standalone application of any complexity that does a perfect job.

    There’s a screen reader application for Windows called “JAWS” that is pretty much ubiquitous among blind folks.

  19. That’s funny. Windypundit pretty much described the problems that have to be solved, but summed it up as not that hard. I summed it up as hard. I guess it’s subjective.

  20. There are several websites that explain specifically how to design accessible pages, and most modern books on web design take accessibility as a given. Most of the millions of bloggers are publishing their content using templates designed with accessibility in mind.

    It’s still a lot of work, and can restrict creative design. Which also means:

    It’s really f’ing hard to do right, requiring lots of programmer and tester time, and validation from actual blind people

    as Mike said. So it’s going to cost money.

  21. Mike, I guess I mean it’s not as hard as the person I quoted seemed to think it was.

    You sound like you have more experience than me so you probably know better. Mostly I’ve just tried to keep accessibility in mind when designing web pages (although I know I’ve got a major too-much-navigation-up-front problem with my blog right now) but I haven’t tried to validate it with testers. I also think there’s a difference between building a site that doesn’t make blind people pull their hair out (what I was talking about) and building a site that is truly efficient for blind people to use (what you’re talking about).

    I had assumed that Target’s site was the first kind of site, not the second.

  22. The NFB is loaded with MADD-like busybodies. Foundations like these exist solely to extract money by force, the amount of good they do is far outweighed by the bad they do. America’s road to insolvency is paved with good intentions.

    http://blog.oregonlive.com/pdxgreen/2008/04/hybrids_are_they_too_quiet_pro.html#more

  23. So, they can shop somewhere else (or take a cab to a Target store, although the stores don’t have everything thats online), and Target can decide to change it if they want to capture the blind online shopper demographic.

    Honestly, as a left libertarian, I don’t really even have sympathy for this situation. There are just so many other possibilities.

  24. See? It’s Extortion We Can Believe In?.

    The GOP recently tried to copy this slogal. Their version was “The Extortion You Deserve.” But it turned out that it had been trademarked by the teamsters’ union.

  25. I also think there’s a difference between building a site that doesn’t make blind people pull their hair out (what I was talking about) and building a site that is truly efficient for blind people to use (what you’re talking about).

    You’re on to something there. It’s pretty fuzzy where one would draw the line between accessible enough and not accessible enough. If they are going to consider websites as public accommodation, the Feds had better clarify what’s required.

  26. Thank you Captain A. Criticism noted.

  27. Also, the fact that we’re getting bogged down in design of the website is yet furthering the plaintiff argument.

    A website is not a public accommodation [thank you Captain A]. By setting this precedent, another mile along the road to hell has surely been paved. Also, this presumes that any website has to be designed for blind accessibility, even if the product sold isn’t intended to be used by blind people– say automobile manufacturer websites who use Flash almost exclusively to pimp, sell and facilitate the purchase of their products.

  28. From what I recall, when regulations were first announced saying that the laws applied to websites, approximately 0% of the US government websites met the standard. AFAIK, this is still the case. I remember seeing them and laughing because I knew of no corporate sites that completely met the standard.

  29. For example, any site with content in flash is almost assuredly not blind-friendly.

  30. From what I recall, when regulations were first announced saying that the laws applied to websites, approximately 0% of the US government websites met the standard.

    robc,
    Do I have to expalin everything? They are our overlords. Mundane rules and regulations do not apply to our masters.

  31. What’s next, iTunes for the deaf? The web is a visual medium. How exactly does a blind person click a link when they can’t see its location?

    How do security features like captchas work under this ruling? If the website is required to allow browser software to accurately “read” images in order accommodate blind users, then it opens the door for automated spam software to spam sites where registration is protected.

  32. How do security features like captchas work under this ruling?”

    Good point. The (rarely implemented) answer is audio captchas: Type what the voice says.

  33. I am nothing if not awash in sympathy for people with disabilities, but this kind of result (settled or otherwise, it’s not a surprise) is bad. Where does it end? What about people who are blind and deaf? Should Target be legally liable for flying someone to the home of such a person and tapping out the information on that person’s wrist? What about shoppers in a comatose state? What about our relatives, the gorillas?

    This is madness!

  34. Mike, I think another thing is that I was thinking of a mostly-information site like a blog or a corporate web page. Accessible design for e-commerce is going to be harder.

  35. My work here is done [Assumes the persona of Mr. Vacuum, Captain Accommodate’s alter ego].

  36. “””I’ve never understood why business owners, as opposed to taxpayers in general, should bear the financial burden of making them so. “””

    I like the idea of government having to pay for us to comply with regulations. I can’t wait till states pick up the tab for our drivers licenses, car insurance, housing improvment necessary to comply with building codes, ect. Yeah that’s a little sarcastic, but why should corporations get off the hook for the financial burden of complance and not the citizenry.

    It comes out of our pocket anyway. What’s the difference between paying extra in taxes or paying extra for the service or goods. I’d rather give my money to a company than the government.

    I’m all for helping the disabled in a reasonable manner but this is pretty lame, to put it lightly. I’m generally against silly government regulations but I’m not that much of a spokesperson since a buisness can put silly regulations on it’s employees off the clock.

  37. What about people who are blind and deaf?

    Pfft. Who cares about them?

  38. What about stupid people who don’t understand how to navigate the site? What about poor people who don’t have computers? What about the seriously drunk?

  39. What about Marxists who oppose the bourgeois ways of Target?

  40. What about the Amish?

  41. What about Marxists who oppose the bourgeois ways of Target?

    Well, they are certainly mentally handicapped. I don’t know if there’s any way to accomodate them, though. One-way tickets to North Korea, maybe?

  42. Damn you, R C Dean! You interrupted my afternoon siesta!

  43. For example, any site with content in flash is almost assuredly not blind-friendly.

    Traditionally pretty much true, but Flash applications written with Flex are accessible if you stick to using the prepackaged Flex UI components.

  44. What about stupid people who don’t understand how to navigate the site?

    We did a bunch of online shopping while remodeling our house. And quickly came to realize just how crappy and primitive e-shopping really is.

  45. Yes, I have a fundamental right to a well-designed, easily navigated site. I intend to sue and sue again!

  46. “What about stupid people who don’t understand how to navigate the site? What about poor people who don’t have computers? What about the seriously drunk?”

    Those people don’t have a handicap. Fucking BLIND people do.

    I know libertarians don’t give a crap for fairness (most common libertarian reply on this site: “life aint’ fair, deal with it!”) but most people want their society to be fair. And since disabled people usually come to their disability through no or little fault of their own we think we, as a society, should sacrifice a bit to make things a bit fairer for them. We don’t think they should just try their best in the market and take what competition gives them, because if we did we would, in fact, be dicks.

  47. “I’ve never understood why business owners, as opposed to taxpayers in general, should bear the financial burden of making them so.”

    Well, duh, as you guys point out all the time the “taxpayers in general” or rather consumers in general will pay the costs because the business owners will simply pass the costs along in higher prices.

  48. MNG,

    As I said earlier, my sympathy is unbound for people with disabilities. What is bound is my desire to force companies to accommodate an ever-increasing list of disabilities, all on their own hook. Unfunded mandates are, usually, extremely unfair, unprincipled, and wrong.

    Where does this end? While I was kidding above, there are other disabilities that are not adequately addressed by businesses. Should they all be forced to cough up millions and be forced to do things that maybe are better handled at the consumer end (i.e., through technological aids, etc.).

  49. Remember, The Blind are equal, too. And if you don’t believe that, you’re a sightist.

  50. Is this another example of lawyers making work for themselves? I mean, the fix is so cheap, and $6 million is so expensive, why did Target’s lawyers tell them to fight this instead of just making the changes the NFB wanted — which would probably have made their Web appearance better for regular folks too? They could have hired Web designers recommended by NFB for a lot less than their lawyers.

  51. To address a few of the points you brought up:

    It’s very unlikely fixing the design of the entire Target website was cheap.

    The changes to make a website more accessible don’t necessarily make the website better for sighted people. Sometimes it works out that way, but sometimes accessibility holds one back from doing innovative user interface.

    There aren’t that many web designers out there that have expertise in accessibility.

  52. R.Goodman — when, if ever, did a company get a chance to say, “Don’t sue us, we’ll comply” and the plaintiffs responded with, “uh, OK.” Especially when the plaintiffs are a foundation with a pile of money who’s whole purpose is to sue people on behalf of their constituents…

    I’m not sure if anyone covered this above, but this seems like the perfect opportunity for a third-party affiliate to partner with Target. They add disability-friendly value, pass the sales on to Target, and get rewarded with a percentage of the sale. That takes the responsibility off the retailers and gives the third-party a potential revenue source. They can end up being the portal-of-choice for the deaf; redirecting sales to all kinds of retailers…

    Probably still not enough profit potential to make it a reasonable investment.

  53. R.Goodman — when, if ever, did a company get a chance to say, “Don’t sue us, we’ll comply” and the plaintiffs responded with, “uh, OK.”

    They get such a chance every time! The judge will usually offer mediation, but even if not, the fact that one party sought it will be material to the case.

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