In San Francisco, federal judge Marilyn Hall Patel has allowed a lawsuit by the National Federation of the Blind to go forward against the Target Corp., charging that the retailer’s website, Target.com, is insufficiently “accessible” to blind users. Websites are considered accessible to blind users when they (e.g.) include summaries or transcripts for audio/video elements and alt-text for images, while avoiding designs that require users to rely on graphic elements for navigation. Disabled-rights groups had suffered a serious setback a few years ago in their legal campaign to enforce web accessibility, when a court ruled that Southwest Airlines was not liable for the inaccessibility of its online ticket reservation system to some handicapped users. However, Judge Patel (regarded as relatively liberal by the standards of the federal bench) distinguished that case on the grounds that the Target website had more of a “nexus” to physical Target stores than did the airline’s ticketing site. (“Target can be sued if Web site inaccessible to blind, judge says”, AP/Houston Chronicle, Sept. 7; Bob Egelko, “Ruling on Web site access for blind”, San Francisco Chronicle, Sept. 8; Sheri Qualters, “Discrimination Case Opens Door to Internet ADA Claims”, National Law Journal/Law.com, Sept. 28; Slashdot thread). The ruling, in PDF format, is here (courtesy Howard Bashman, who also rounds up other links).
Longtime readers will recall that I’ve been much involved in the web-accessibility controversy over the years. Some links: my May 2000 column for Reason on the subject; various posts on this site, 1999-2002; my House testimony of Feb. 2000; Jan. 8, 2004. And this site’s earlier coverage of the Target case provoked one of the biggest comments discussions ever (Feb. 28, 2006).