Target sued: website not accessible to blind

Per the WSJ Law Blog (Feb. 7): The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), represented by Berkeley’s Disability Rights Advocates as well as two law firms, has sued discounter Target, alleging that it violates California disabled-rights law because its website is not operable by blind computer users. “The suit charges that the site lacks, for instance, compliant alt-text, an invisible code embedded beneath graphics that allows blind users to decipher images. The suit also contends that because the Web site requires the use of a mouse to complete a transaction, blind customers are unable to make purchases on their own.” As longterm readers of this site know, demands for website accessibility under the ADA and similar laws have been simmering for years; in 2002 a federal court turned down such a claim with respect to Southwest Airlines’ website, and two years ago (Jan. 8, 2004) a NFB activist said disability advocates were biding their time, waiting for the right case to reopen the issue. It sounds as if the Target lawsuit may be that case. (& welcome readers of John Dvorak, who calls us “the always entertaining”).

More: at, one enthusiast for the lawsuit says that it also calls into question the practices of, whose shopping engine, according to this commentator, powers the Target site. As I discovered when I started writing on this subject six years ago, many advocates of “web accessibility” seem quite surprised to learn that anyone actually disagrees with them on the merits of the matter, as opposed to just not being well enough informed about it. And: coverage in’s Recorder (Matthew Hirsch, “Suit Alleges Target Denies Blind Access to Online Shopping”, Feb. 14).


  • Web accessibility: still waiting for a case

    In October 2002 a federal judge ruled against a claim that Southwest Airlines had violated federal law by failing to make its web site fully accessible to disabled internet users; the judge said a Web…

  • Apropos your post is the current debate at the Legal Affairs Debate Club: Is the ADA Expanding?

  • I wonder if the Lawyer’s web pages are also accessible to the blind…

  • I am curious, did anyone consider *asking* Target to update their website, rather than just rushing out with a lawsuit?

  • That’s some “debate,” with the first one arguing the Supreme Court hasn’t done enough to expand the ADA, and the other one arguing that the Supreme Court should do even more to expand the ability of the disabled to sue.

  • Independent1, did you read this or not? They gave them 10 months to update their development, and nothing has been changed… that’s more than enough ample time.

    Building accessible sites is not hard for professionals, we just use valid, standard coding practices. 751 errors in one page does not show professional quality development:

    I suggest they hire professionals, or teach their developers to code more 2005 less 1997.

  • Next they should sue the federal government because the that pretty view in the government-owned national park is not accessible to the blind.

  • There’s also coverage from accessibility advocates within the professional community of Web developers at sites such as WaSP Buzz (which raises an issue which may draw your interest) and Accessify. (Disclaimer: I’m directly associated with the Web Standards Project, as is one of the posters to Accessify.)

    As hinted in the coverage from the WebDev side, the annoying thing is not merely that a high profile operator like Target Brands would leave themselves open to a suit. Even more so, the travesty is that institution of the work habits and processes that make sites accessible is not the onerous burden that defendants’ attorneys (and the senior management who retain them) would have magistrates or the Web-using public believe.

    Is there no burden at all? I wouldn’t go that far, because the upfront cost of building an accessible site is usually higher than the same cost of one that isn’t. However, a site designed from the ground up to be accessible by impaired users has a comparable total cost of ownership to one that isn’t – the difference is all in the skill levels of the developers who build it.

  • I used the validator tool on a few test-sites, and I have yet to see a website that met its standards. Walmart had 333 “errors.” Ebay had 249. Priceline 504. Amazon had so many errors it wouldn’t even give me a number. Overlawyered, which is almost entirely text, had 129 “errors.”

    Of course, if it’s illegal to maintain a website that has not been built by a developer of the requisite “skill level,” there will be many fewer web pages, as those of us hobbyists who do our own coding will no longer be able to produce websites for free. (Like the legal monopoly, perhaps we’ll see people charged with unauthorized development of a webpage.) Quite simply, disabled-rights-advocates are militating for a Harrison-Bergeron world where everybody gets substandard web access and only the wealthy can afford to use the Internet to speak.

    The claims of Ben and the WaSP Buzz crew are especially silly when one is talking about a commercial website like Target’s. What possible motive would Target have to make its website non-accessible if it were cost-effective to do so? If so many potential customers would be able to access a website for so little additional marginal cost, why forgo the profit? Is Senator Dayton really motivated by animus towards the disabled?

  • W3’s validator is exceedingly picky – as Ted pointed out.

    Even Mr Frey’s site, which validates perfectly, has no ALT tags. At least, not that show up in Firefox.

    Is Target the only on-line shop that doesn’t make provision for blind people? Does Mr Sexton (one of the plaintiffs) have nowhere else to shop online?

    An article about the suit mentions voice-enabled systems – there are also Braille readers that present the text in a row of pins.

  • “…as those of us hobbyists who do our own coding will no longer be able to produce websites for free.”

    All this information is freely available for you to learn and ask questions to improve your skills – many of us teach it for free:
    …and numerous others

    If you do your own coding, there’s no one to blame if you do not have the knowledge but yourself.

    And there are quite a few sites that adhere to standards available, I just came across the other day — the majority of dated systems for content management are to blame on larger sites. ABC News was up to par a few months back, but have fallen to the wayside.

    I’m sure you can look through any one of the showcase sites, comes to mind, and find numerous examples of this.

    If you’d like to learn more about web standards and prefer reading a book, is considered an industry favorite, so is

    It is much more cost effect to make an accessible, and properly built website — some of this falls into smaller file download, some of this in redesign time (typically the separation of code and design into different files, html/css alone, will speed up your updates by being able to your content without affecting your design, and vice versa).

    The real reason, if you’ve ever worked in one of these environments, is simply the lack of knowledge, the ego to not look at your design flaws, or the stubberness to learn the proper way of doing things.

    The web isn’t new anymore — a lot has happened in the 10+ young years it’s been developing — what you learned two years ago may not be right, but it only takes a little reading to know how to do it properly.

    If you’re angry because your WYSIWYG editor is not putting out the proper code, then complain to them, or learn how to hand code — you have alternatives.

    Even Google who has coding flaws in their site lists the amount of damage and errors in web pages is large, mostly from missinformation, and the odd lack of desire to learn the modern ways

    I’d also differ in saying that building an accessible site is more costly — I find the opposite now. If you build it ground up proper, you only have to test and validate, with relatively small adjustments — compare that with spacer gifs and improper table layouts, and you have a huge construction mess that will only get larger as updates loom.

  • Mike, my site does have alt tags on the elements that are images in the html — those images on the home page are background images in CSS — so handicap users get full text, no alt images are needed… since it’s not in the html.

    Some of these techniques are called image replacement:

    But in this case, it made more sense to have a background image, since the image tag itself did not represent content.

    Check the home page again, there are no image tags.

  • Trying desperately to keep things on-topic, while at the same time tying up loose ends in other comments…

    I’ll open this comment by saying that I’m not an attorney, but I am a professional Web developer who has been serving contracts for ten years would would love to meet any judge, attorney, or CxO who thinks they’ve got their mind wrapped around the feasibility of site accessibility to the extent I (and several of my colleagues) do.

    Many of the zillions of errors you see on BigCo sites can be written off as “damnpersands” – older content management systems were built without a single thought for XML’s strict requirements, and the explanation gets even more involved from there.

    The point is that a lot of the egregious error counts you’re seeing point to minutiae both within and without the context of the current post.

    All of the ABC/Disney affiliated sites went through standards-friendly redesigns during 2004, but as others have pointed out the processes needed to keep them that way have lost out to the wonders of seniority and sticking with the devil you know.

    All of the Web’s core technologies are available without licensing requirements or other discriminatory meausures. While a few of those technologies require a significant investment of time and energy to master (particularly CSS), none of them are too complicated to learn as a consequence of self-motivated study and application.

    Finally, CSS makes it possible to build a single site that provides rich experiences to all comers… but is not strictly required to build accessible sites.

    Meantime, there are two questions that can stand to be addressed:

    1. Which is higher: the opportunity cost of making a site accessible, or the risk-to-benefit ratio of using antiquated site design and production techniques that may leave your organization (or client) open to a lawsuit?
    2. Is it reasonable – in light the of the Southwest Airlines opinion – to expect that sites should be treated as “public accommodations” not unlike “brick and mortar” premises?

    Both of these questions have undertones that are best answered by accountants and attorneys (in whose areas of expertise I’ve nothing but common sense as a guide). However…

    In the case of the first question, let’s take into account conditions likely to be in accord (on an engineering level) with those under which Target does business online.

    Target is a ubiquitous retail chain (in the USA at least) which sells a wide spectrum of products, many of which are likely of great value to customers with disabilities. They also display their site address prominently in their instore literature and in the signage which identifies the customer service desk at any given store. For this reason, I can make a common sense case that their online retail operation is an extension of their meatspace stores, and should be held to some comparable standard of service.


    Beyond a certain point, e-commerce is a level playing field. While this may not be true in regard to market niches or prices, from an engineering standpoint the two factors which distinguish Target and Amazon from (favorite of cartoon coyotes everywhere) are volume and features.

    Note that neither of those factors are strictly relevant to the needs of inherently impaired site visitors – at least, not if we measure a site’s accessibility simply by the ease with which an impaired customer can find, encart, and purchase products on the site.

    The questions that need yes for an answer are:

    • Can a visitor with a foreseeable impairment navigate unconditionally to a specific product hawked on the site?
    • Once they’ve navigated to the URI, can they evaluate that product’s price and features without difficulty?
    • Once the impaired prospective customer has chosen to buy a product on the site, can they (again unconditionally) proceed to checkout and complete their purchase (even if doing so means creating a customer profile on the site)?

    In the Southwest case it was conceded that on the answer to all of the preceding questions was a qualified “yes” – and it is my (ironic) hope that the merits of this new suit will be evaluated on the same merits.

    In my next comment I’ll explain in detail (some of it technical) why the commonality of core technologies, and the functional irrelevance of volume and features, puts no greater demand on a high-volume operator than a low-volume operator.

  • Ted… The fact that you are unable to discover any websites that pass the W3C validation test is not surprising.

    For those of us who specialize in designing well-formed and highly accessible websites, it’s quite easy for us to spot a site that’s been designed with care. Allow me to point you in the right direction:

  • In my last comment, I claimed that neither volume nor features make a difference to the feasibility of making a site accessible, and started my proof by laying out a common-sense definition of e-commerce accessibility.

    To finish the proof, I’ll spell out that increased features actually contrive to damage a site’s accessibility, when flawed processes are put into motion – because it is process and work habits, not technology, that make it possible to build an accessible site. Neither features nor volume have relationships to process and work habits that are more than tangential – sites which are richly featured and/or subjected to unusually high volume simply demand more conscientious attitudes from the teams that develop them.

    In effect, accessible sites are actually easier for smaller operators to build, because the expectations of smaller operators tend to enforce reliance on simplicity. At the same time, site features are an optional matter – there is little or nothing to stop a high volume retailer from observing the principle of simplicity just as intently as a low volume retailer would.

    In the construction of an e-commerce site, the dev team’s toolbox contains, at minimum:

    The LAMP stack or something that fills comparable needs. LAMP typically expands to “Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP” but Linux could easily be substituted by BSD, or PHP by Perl (as on or Python. A Windows-centric effort without legacy dependencies would likely employ Windows Server 2003, IIS, MSSQL, and .NET. In layman’s terms, the first two items in that acronym comprise the Web server, the third the database server, and the fourth the scripting language which handles business and application logic (at the barest, database transactions).

    HTML. Once you’ve generated your product pages (shopping cart, payment page, etc.) you need to display them adequately.

    Note the technologies that are missing: I’ve deliberately neglected CSS, JavaScript, graphics, and copywriting because none of those areas of expertise are an absolute requirement for the production of an e-commerce site. Good to use, yes, but not essential.

    Nothing about the technologies I’ve included results in an inaccessible site by default. The inaccessibility arises from the following flaws in process:

    • Failure to observe the imperative of simplicity. In practice, what Marketing and the CEO want, they get. So the site winds up with additional features that are not essential to its mission, often employing technologies (especially JavaScript) that impair a site’s accessibility unless they’re used well.
    • Failure to integrate features properly into the rest of the site. Missed deadlines and lack of design foresight result in things being built to a rushed schedule, and then bolted onto a larger application in ways that may result in the features’ tendrils being extended back into the main e-commerce application on an ad hoc basis.
    • Failure to separate functionally different components of the site. Business logic, application logic, data, structure, content, presentation, and behavior are all different animals on a site, and unskilled developers habitually conceptualize sites on a per-page or per-screen basis, rather than taking time to examine how the various elements of a site interact with one another (to say nothing of visitors). In combination with the preceding flaws, the result is what I and many others refer to as spaghetti – code, markup, and styles (if any) which are so horribly tangled together that there is no hope of ever extending the site effectively unless one starts over from a blank slate… and yet, management carries on and demands new features. With each request, the site becomes progressively unusable and/or unmaintainable, and somewhere on that continuum it becomes inaccessible to the impaired.

    This exposition implies many things, not least of them being that many high profile sites currently in production were built by unskilled people. The sad thing is, I’ll gladly vault that implication to a full statement of opinion. Much of the core application code in use today (especially Amazon’s) was developed (at least in part) during the Nineties, when nobody had much in the way of experience, and entire teams were fumbling their way along with more enthusiasm than insight. This current reliance on what can be considered legacy code (on an Internet Time scale) is largely a consequence of the 2000 tech crash, from which Web vendors have only begun to recover over the past eighteen months or so (see also “Web 2.0”).

    However, those same conditions have allowed for the retention (and effective re-circulation) of people who haven’t bothered to maintain their professional education beyond the bare minimum required to keep their jobs, because they can speak for umpteen continuous years of employment on a resume. While such operators may be an essential ingredient in the glue that maintains team fit, their engineering opinions can (and do) turn out to be worse than useless. My anecdotal understanding is that this problem is especially salient in the roster of federal employees.

    Finally, there is a pointy-clicky bias on a lot of development teams (particularly ones led by design school graduates), in which the Web is treated like a bastardized version of desktop publishing (even though it’s obviously a much more powerful medium and follows entirely different rules). In such environments, accessibility is often treated as an afterthought, if it is considered at all.

    Having settled up the importance of process, I’ll close with my reflections (as a professional) on the adjudication, legislation, and Real World practice of site accessibility.

  • In my second comment, I asked if the risk analysis supported the building of accessible sites, and if sites ought to be treated as public accommodations.

    Common sense demands that the latter is true, at least to a degree, and (I’d imagine) will become true without qualification if the Web is ever redefined as a public good.

    The former question is a bit tricker, though I hope my previous comment was able to cover that territory without causing any brains to melt – nothing extraordinary needs to be undertaken in order to create an accessible site, unless you consider an uncompromising attitude toward good work habits to be extraordinary. Between the proportionally small additional investment that needs to be made, the benefits of reduced maintenance demands and eased scalability, and the risk of alienating potential customers as a consequence of having a crap site (even if they don’t sue), a case for the adoption of techniques for the construction of accessible sites strikes me as a no-brainer; as our host points out, the balance seems to be in terms of knowledge and (by implication) the willingness to learn, not whether or not accessible sites are almost universally a Good Idea.

    Meantime, I have plenty upon which to meditate as professional (and colleague of the WaSP poster who was skylined in the update to the main post).

    One of the underlying issues is that, as a trade, sitebuilding is still in its infancy. Human resources professionals are often underequipped to hire the right people, and there are a dearth of professional qualifications (other than tenures of experience with this language or that) that can clearly identify a qualified Web developer or designer. I can only think of four of these: a MLIS (with emphasis on information architecture), a M.S. in psychology (with emphasis on human-computer interaction), and an honors or master’s degree in computer engineering or information management (with an emphasis on systems analysis and design). Meanwhile, none of those degrees address more than the barest details of the marketing, graphic design, editorial, or business talents which also need to be applied in order to build an excellent site.

    On a personnel level, the industry is still too often fumbling its way along.

    For all of these reasons, I am reluctant to support the evolution of professional standards through legislation or litigation.

    For all of its gray areas, the sitebuilding trade has more than enough cream that the best will rise to the top, given time. In my work with the Web Standards Project, I’ve seen this trend start and continue over the past three years.

    For this reason (and others), I’m disturbed by the thought that my trade may ever become subject to the ill-informed demands of judges, plaintiffs, legislators, or special interest groups.

    Of greater concern, and where I am afraid litigation might have a positive impact, is with regard to discrimination against the impaired.

    It is easy for me to foresee that, as site operators get a better handle on the principle of simplicity, non-essential features made available to unimpaired visitors might be denied to impaired visitors, simply because a project sponsor is unwilling to devote the time or other resources needed to make that access universal.

    In fact, there are very few things the impaired would care about that could not be provided to them on an equal footing with the unimpaired.

    I cannot, for example, imagine a blind user being offended that they cannot view a Flash cartoon, unless viewing that cartoon was necessary to completing a purchase or performing some other site task – advertisers beware!

    At the same time, I also cannot imagine why features such as one-click purchasing, wish lists, review/rating submission, and tag support could not be made available to everyone equally.

    The one flashpoint I can see revolves around asynchronous transactions, but stateless transaction pipelines can be built into an application in parallel with asynchronous transaction pipelines, and feasibly. The principal effect of this division would be that the same tasks would take proportionally longer to complete, and use slightly more bandwidth, when undertaken with assistive technology… meanwhile, I feel confident that soon enough, assistive technology will catch up to the increased pace of sitebuilding innovations over the past couple of years.

    In my opinion, the lion’s share of the present room for improvement lies with streamlining site development processes, bringing sponsor expectations in line with what is practical and possible, and encouraging Webdev professionals to keep their training current.

    If this room for improvement was to be filled, litigation and legislation over site accessibilty would become an anachronism.

    Finally, the commenter link posted in my first comment is a 404, but has been fixed in all of my subsequent comments.

  • Has anyone ever sued GM or FORD for not making automobiles that are accessible to the blind?

  • “Has anyone ever sued GM or FORD for not making automobiles that are accessible to the blind?”

    There seems to be an implication present in the above question, but its not immediately obvious. Can you expand on why you think there is a parallel between your comment and the legal action above? (Where you live, do people have to have a “web surfer license” before they are allowed online?) ?

  • If you do your own coding, there’s no one to blame if you do not have the knowledge but yourself.

    But maybe I’m learning-disabled, and thus my sloppy coding is a result of my disability? How dare you oppress me like that!

    Even if not, you seem to assume that I want to spend the additional time of learning politically-correct coding. I don’t, because at zero marginal cost, I can design a website that is accessible by the overwhelming majority of users. Invent website-creation tools that automatically provide the same functionality and are easier to use than existing free user-friendly website-creation tools and improve accessibility, and then you can complain that I’m being foolish. Until then, demanding that the entire world use your preferred coding techniques is unreasonable.

    Adding potential liability into the equation begs the question: why should there be liability in the first place if it’s not cost-effective to make the changes?

  • But maybe I’m learning-disabled, and thus my sloppy coding is a result of my disability? How dare you oppress me like that!

    That’s your assumption:)

    This isn’t political correct coding, it’s about coding properly. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do it — just as there’s a professional way to build a shed in your back yard that’s a process well documented, and there are poor methods used by inexperienced builders.

    Here’s the skinny, at zero marginal cost I can build one that accessible to ALL users. You’re ok with losing a specific market of visitors I assume – but in my line of work, that’s stupid marketing.

    Case example, we’ll say, I get only 1% of visitors to my website who require keyboard navigation, and I didn’t provide it. I average 750 visitors a day, roughly 273,750 annually — any business owner willing to lose a potential clientele of 2,737 on an annual basis should not be a business owner.

    You argue this case as if we’re imposing a draconian technique of development — when if you were an experienced designer or developer, you’d understand ‘you simply need to learn the tools of your craft’. This is not unreasonable to learn a proper, documented method — it is a technical, unique, and skilled profession.

    It is completely cost effective to make the changes, and in the end, I think this is what you’re forgetting. Sure, it’s not cost effective for you at the moment if you were to hire someone with more talent to accomplish what you’re not able too, or choose not to learn.

    For a large organization like, say, ESPN to redesign with standards in mind (as they have slowly moved towards), with 40 million page hits a day, think of the potential lost audience and billable revenue they have to come to terms with simply because they’re not experienced enough in the area to redevelop? Ignoring the loss of a marketing audience, dropping the code by even 30%, though we typically find more with valid code, could save them hundreds of thousands on bandwidth and IT labor.

    I enjoy debating with someone passionate about their beliefs Ted, but more and more your arguement is an attempt to justify the lack of knowledge or willing ability to learn improved design and development.

    …and to note, I’d love to see a website-creation tool that automatically provides these features, but I don’t know software development, and I wouldn’t want to make a desktop application that was dated, now would I? However, I DO make CMS web apps (content management systems) that create valid proper code for clientel all the time, to edit and manage their website in any way that they need — if you want a quick website, install wordpress in five minutes and start the ground running with valid code. Take 20 minutes through htmldog’s tutorials, email me with any questions or create a free account on

    The savings and larger audience of users (you do know that SEO regards Google as the most persuasive blind user in the world? Much of it’s indexing is similar to screen readers. How is your Google ranking effecting your business) outweighs the finances to learn or ask how to do it properly.

    In the end, I’m surprised I have to defend this, you don’t have much of an arguement pitching why you have to clean to dated methods? Every year, we have to deal with this, it’s how progress works in a fast paced industry — 10 years ago we were arguing to make javascript readers to direct users to an IE or Netscape friendly site, and complaining about using font tags in our code. Learn the new way; if not, that’s fine — if you are a designer, I’ll be happy to redesign your clients websites for them in the future, or yours if you’re a customer. If you’re a hobbyist, I’m happy to answer questions and guide you into developing better websites for you and your business. If you don’t want to, that’s your choice, and you suffer with the loss of visitors and financial gain that comes with it.

  • “Until then, demanding that the entire world use your preferred coding techniques is unreasonable.”

    Actually, its the fundamental point of why the World Wide Web, and the Internet works – a common adherence to standards. As Mark Pilgrim often noted, “A lot of effort went into making this look effortless”.

    HTML, which is the cornerstone of websites, is a standard. I’m surprised you find it unreasonable to follow this standard – without standards the Internet would collapse.

    You turn on your computer, open a browser, click on a bookmark – and you expect it to work. You expect your browser to retrieve the page you bookmarked. And yet, you do not consider that expectation unreasonable. It just works.

    Who’s fault is it when that doesn’t work for you? Do you call your ISP and lodge a complaint, or do you just say, oh well, maybe it will work later? What happens, if you wait until later, and it still doesn’t work. At what point do you then consider it unreasonable for it not to work? Will you wait ten months for someone to fix something that should be working?

    When you butcher your HTML into something that isn’t well formed and isn’t written correctly – you create barriers for others. Those people – just like you – expect your site to work, but it doesn’t. It doesn’t work because you failed to follow the basic HTML specification correctly.

  • There are barriers on both sides. If the standard becomes so complex that it can only be adhered to by professionals, then it creates a barrier to entry on the World Wide Web. You get a tiny amount of new people with additional access to the web, and lose a huge percentage of content because amateur webpages are no longer feasible.

    It’s one thing to have an aspirational standard and try to persuade people to adopt your preferred standard, it’s another to ask the legal system to impose an aspirational standard that there’s no demand for in the marketplace.

    You keep asserting that it’s cost effective to make the changes. Clearly, businesses don’t agree with you: they can’t all be irrational. And if they are, they will suffer the consequences without need for lawsuit.

    If it costs more to attract the extra 1% of customers than those customers provide in business, then, yes, it is good business to disregard those customers. Jimmy Dean Pork Sausages doesn’t buy advertising in my synagogue’s newsletter for just this reason.

    If, on the other hand, you are correct, and Target is pointlessly costing itself business by failing to adopt your preferred coding techniques, then Target will lose business to superior websites, and Target will either change or go out of business. The market will fix the problem without having to resort to the legal system.

    Either way, there’s no justification for forcing people to code a particular way under threat of substantial legal penalty.

  • Ted: “If the standard becomes so complex that it can only be adhered to by professionals, then it creates a barrier to entry on the World Wide Web.”

    Which is why its important to support a simple and publicly available standard like the HTML or XHTML recommendation from the W3C.

    The alternative is far more complex and impractical – every browser making up their own rendering rules. That forces web developers to code separate websites for every brand of browser, or wallow in deeply nested tables layouts, the sort that makes maintainability of the site a massive cost overhead.

    This was so common in the browser war years – between 1997 and 2000. Until one browser dominated – Internet Explorer. This created a massive barrier to entry for alternative browsers, including mobile phones and PDAs, and assistive technologies.

    The only sane solution out of this is to move towards a consistent web standard. Which is where the W3C’s HTML specification comes in – a consistent set of rules that are simpler to support (for content authors and browser makers) than the tag-soup handlers that the browser wars produced.

    Using proper markup reduces the barrier to entry on the world wide web to content producers, browser makers, assistive technology suppliers – and because of that consistency of approach, the overall feel is improved for non-disabled people, and the content is accessible by disabled people.

    The modern webstandards are far leaner, slicker and simpler than using the 1997-era web development techniques.

    Its no surprise that the huge explosion of content producers on the web is directly related to the rise of blogging – and blogging software is one area where web standards is taken seriously. Even this blog – a movable type engine from Six Apart supports modern webstandards, and yet you’ve probably not noticed that 🙂 (amateurs and professionals alike blog)

    Web standards, with the strong growth of blogging, has lowered the barrier of producing content for the World Wide Web. No ifs, buts or maybes about it.

  • As a one time political editor, I’ll agree with the fact that enforcing a threat under legal penalty is off – in many ways, this can be a social issue, not a legal issue (just as what’s right and wrong does not make it legal and illegal). But handicap users have felt it a need to press legal action under the weight of lackluster response from businesses, and we shall see how that plays out.

    …and clearly businesses agree with the cost effects of going to standards development — the problem is again, you are not immersed in this business. We’ve seen a rapid upgrowth in standards based design as more and more browser embrace it as a preferred coding habit, and Internet Explorer 7’s improved adopting of it’s practices will make it grow even more. This is why most of us in this industry are swamped with work — and we’ve seen huge strides in other companies with the technology — MSN Search being a huge example. That’s a company that openly snubbed standards for the past 4 years (even though they were originally one of the fathers of the standards movement), and came out with a web development search engine that uses no tables for layout, focuses strongly on accessibility, even boasts ‘strict mode’ (there are levels of coding — we have a simpler quirks mode for new and hobby developers, and strict for more stringent practices) — and it validates. They’ve seen a large financial savings in going this route — one of the reasons we’ve watched other companies follow suite. In the past year alone, I can’t count on my digits the number of standards base showcase sites that demonstrate this trend.

    Much of the problem I find in corporations is misinformation and inexperienced developers pitching snake oil — this is something I find even in the design industry (printing CMYK pigment ink for an outdoor life poster without UV protection — for the same price, solvent based ink would have gotten them 5 years durability without laminte, where pigment is 6months at the most with laminate). So it’s there, and there are tons of examples of this; but like digging through resumes on job interviews, at times it seems the worst picks outweight the best.

    Even in the past year, we’ve seen wellsfargo overhaul it’s whole online banking system with standards and accessibility in mind, and the GAP/Banana Republic/Old Navy do a complete ongoing overhaul as well.

    Your arguement is it costs more to attract that 1% than it’s not reasonable to do the change… as I said before, in web development, doing it right the first time will not lose that 1% — so it DOESN’T cost more. Redevelopment of any site is going to be an expense but ALL major branded websites go through an almost complete overhaul every five years, as processes improve and audience’s develop.

    Jimmy Dean of course isn’t pitching in a synogogue newsletter because that’s not their target market. However, a handicap user could potentially be EVERYONE’s target market — if you don’t agree with that, then your inexperience is showing. Regardless, if you had experience in marketing, you’d be very aware that while you aren’t necessarily going to purchase advertising in a specific demographic, you would not willingly dismiss potential customers who you weren’t sure are in your target.

    So it’s not good business to disregard the 1% of handicap visitors — the are as eclectic as any other visitor on the web, and since the web grants a certain level of anonymity to shoppers, you’d have no idea anyway. Obviously the gentleman in this suit wanted to make a purchase at Target — even if he did, you can’t argue that there’s the potential for others who would want to purchase. Would at home purchasing through the internet not be the most appealing to this audience, arguably, if mobility and support is an issue? So your Jimmy Dean Pork pitch falls flat, you have no idea if these users are a demographic at choice, and much about the internet says otherwise.

    …and to follow up on your barriers remark, again, you can install a wordpress template for free, takes 5 minutes, and it’s built properly from the get go. Amature templates are available for other hobbyists, the WYSIWYG editors are improving, and all this information is freely available to learn from online, and people like me dedicate some of our time to help people progress.

    To offset the difficulties with standards and going forward with processes, guidelines for strict and transitional (as we call it) have been there to teach differing levels.

    Much less, web development has become easier — with coding processes much less time consuming and smaller to manage. Back in the dotcom boom, with 2 competing browsers, to make a web page work you had to use complex table layouts, spacer giffs, two different types of media coding, and a whole slew of differing layout and rendering issues you often did with multiple pages.

    If anything, because of standards, coding has become less complex and easier for the average user to code. Look at my webpage, or some of the valid pages out there — they’re usually simpler in look, and easier to explain and understand. Development of complex site teams have become drastically smaller and faster, since now we can have one person pump out a site that 3 used to take because of the sheer amount of code. You’re assuming that stringent coding practices will deter average users — when the industry has shown the opposite, it’s created a path for learning and development.

    Again, I agree that legal forcing of guidelines is a questionable agenda — but as far as criticising standards, I think you need to read more about the history of the internet; the hell we went through before and how it’s progressed now to understand why many of us push for streamlined, modern techniques to enrich our design and audience.

  • You’re putting words in my mouth. I haven’t criticized any standards; I have no knowledge whether one standard is objectively superior to another (or whether it’s even possible to make that claim in a coherent fashion), and make no claims in that regard; I don’t know whether it’s good business for a company to implement certain levels of usability standards. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t—though the fact that the disabled haven’t been able to persuade some corporations of this and are resorting to litigation is pretty strong evidence that it isn’t cost-effective in at least some cases.

    My point is simply this: What I am confident of is that the market will get the decision right in the long run, while the judicial system is in no position to do anything other than make an expensive and misinformed guess that has a substantial chance of making society worse off. Moreover, legal rules that permit damages to be awarded for “improper web design” will be taken advantage of by unscrupulous attorneys, and the long-term effect will be to deter all web design, not just the improper ones, even if it is possible to objectively distinguish between “proper” and “improper” web design.

  • …though the fact that the disabled haven’t been able to persuade some corporations of this and are resorting to litigation is pretty strong evidence that it isn’t cost-effective in at least some cases.

    That’s one perspective. It’s another to notice that design and development decisions are often made by those with the least amount of experience in this field. Where clients typically hope that we can design what they need, we hope we can design what their clients need from them — the end result being many large businesses too afraid or too bloated to notice growing trends and decisions. The fear to notice flaws in your company is a well documented discussion in business management. You see that handicap users lack of pull on big business and need to use litigation as a battle, a weak case for standards? I look at it as a sad case for companies that lack the internal criticism and voice to notice their clientele asking for an improved method to purchase products. I’d challenge anyone to find one company that can prove to me why standards development would not save them money and improve their market spread in the long run — including target.

    As a notice, did you see that Target updated their site in less than 24 hours to fix one of the larger usability flaws? Pretty cost effective turn around — now handicap users can log into the pharmacy section of target without the use of a mouse.

    They were offered 10 months to do this, to change barely 2 lines of code — and they finally did it only after the threat of a lawsuit. That right there is a counter arguement to our disagreement with the suit.

    I’m a strong believer in a Laissez Faire economy; free to balance it’s own market… but in this case, large businesses cared little for their customers.

  • “Moreover, legal rules that permit damages to be awarded for “improper web design” will be taken advantage of by unscrupulous attorneys, and the long-term effect will be to deter all web design, …”

    Why not tackle the real problem, as you note, of “unscrupulous attorneys”? Perhaps a code of conduct, or a code of ethics?

    That’s one thing software and web development teaches you (medical professions too): tackle the root cause of the problem, not the myriad of symptoms.

  • “Either way, there’s no justification for forcing people to code a particular way under threat of substantial legal penalty.”

    I’ve read this set of comments with interest. I think part of the issue here is that “building web pages” has not been fully categorized in the legal world.

    Would anyone argue, for example, that there’s no justification for forcing people to build a particular way under threat of substantial legal penalty?

    Not these days: there’re plenty of building codes you need to adhere to in order to safegurd the public who may enter your facility.

    In terms of the industry, writing software programs has been categorized, to a degree, and now “software engineers” are held to the same standards as other engineers. This has liability implications.

    So if you start to think of websites as online storefronts – then access to them for the disabled becomes a constitutional issue, and those who create them take on that responsibility.

    Of course, there’s still going to be a world of difference between a huge ecommerce firm (e.g. a “supermarket” or “department store” such as Target in this case) and a hobby site proclaiming love for a given band or something (e.g. the shed in your backyard).

    Still, you are liable for accidents that occur in your shed, at least in the jurisdiction I live in. And that’s an interesting thought.

    It will depend what kind of legal precedences continue to be set in order to determine how websites and their creators will be treated.

    In this case at least one person has been arguing that people with basic knowledge of html should be allowed to post their webpages. And I agree with that. But really, should companies be allowed to adhere to lower standards when it disadvantages the handicapped?

    After all, following well-known, industry standard practices avoids these problems. I hope Target isn’t allowed to use the “common practices” excuse to defend substandard and out-dated site practices.

    It certainly wouldn’t work in accounting, engineering, or any other industry.

    Why should it be allowed on the web?

  • sued by the U.S. National Federation of the Blind (NFB)

    The NFB has filed a lawsuit against because their web site is not accessible to people with…

  • Approacing this from a purely legal and social standpoint and completely ignoring whether or not good coding and business practices are in place, what gives someone the right to conduct business with me?

    As a business owner don’t I have the right to say I could care less if I do business with a person? If I don’t want to provide disabled parking in the parking lot I own, they can go elsewhere. “Sorry about your disabling condition but it’s your problem, not mine. I hear that Bob’s place down the road has handicapped parking.” If I loose money because of my freedom to conduct business poorly, that is my problem to deal with.

    I know I can refuse to accept checks, does that make those who only write checks a protected class. (sorry but I’m on a roll here) How about if I refuse to accept cash or credit cards? That only hurts me. I don’t have to do business with you because you don’t use the form of payment I accept.

    Whether I have good business practices or not, I am in business, not social services. Why is it my responsibility to accomodate any single group so long as I am not discriminating against them?

  • Overlawyered: Target sued: website not accessible to blind

    The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), represented by Berkeley’s Disability Rights Advocates as well as two law firms, has sued discounter Target, alleging that it violates California disabled-rights law because its website is not operable…

  • As a one time Libertarian, this is an arguement we had many times, and to some extent, again, I agree with the idea of a free market economy that sets it’s own stage. However, that model would be based on the fact that government didn’t interfere in the majority of business requirements. While not delving too deeply into that discussion — if the market corruption we saw today were not true, then yes, the model of a free market where the economy balances itself out by serving those needs as they deem fit would work.

    As it stands today, this is not the case. Government restriction has created an economy where large corporations can control a few necessities; taking free market at the knees.

    The counter to all of that is that these restrictions were imposed to protect and empower those who could not speak up, and those who didn’t have the strength to fight big business, or even local business. These social organizations were created to help handicap users so that they could live a comfortable life without being chastized for things that may not be in their control. It’s your business, and it’s their free will to shop there — but it’s also their free will to protest accomodating their basic needs.

    From a plain look, I can see your perspective, but it also sounds like you’ve never had this experience first hand. I’d suggest talking to visitors that fit your description and ask them how they feel.

    I still feel strongly that if you are in business, and you do not take steps to accomdate an easy target market, you’re destined for failure. Wether that be marketing, PR, or pure sales.

  • Negligent web design

    Web design has been in the news a lot lately. Target has been sued because its website is inaccessible to blind people, and now there’s news that, the government website designed to streamline federal grant applications, doesn’t work with…

  • Awesome blog you have. I enjoyed reading it this evening.

  • I make accessible webpages and do not like excuses that it is too hard. It is not, I just stared a review of Aust v English websites for validity and accessibility.