Blind Web Surfers Sue Target for Access

Discussion
Oct 25, 2006

By George Anderson


Retailers are required by law to make special accommodations for the disabled in their stores. The same, say groups such as the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), should apply to retailers’ e-commerce sites. That is the crux of a lawsuit brought by the NFB against Target.


Target’s position, conversely, is that its web site is not subject to the Americans With Disabilities Act and that it was “committed to providing an online experience that is accessible to all of our guests. Despite the lawsuit brought forward by the National Federation of the Blind, we have always and will continue to implement new technologies to our Web site.”


Still, the NFB says Target.com is inaccessible to the visually impaired and it needs to make use of technology that converts text on a web page to voiced messages. The same software enables the blind to surf the web through commands understood by their computers.


Chris Danielsen, a blind man who developed a screen-reading software program called Jaws, told The Associated Press, “The blind have more access to information than they ever had in history – but that’s only true to the extent that Web accessibility is maintained. The technology is out there, and we don’t need barriers to be put in our way. Give us a way in.”


Retailers are not trying to lock anyone out, according to Scott Silverman, executive director of Shop.org. “It’s a very fast-moving environment. Retailers want to serve all their customers, including blind people,” he said.


While the case between the NFB and Target plays out, there are other retailers already setting up sites to be accessible to the blind.


Kelly Groehler, a spokesperson for Best Buy, told The Associated Press, the company has made changes to code the site to make it compatible with screen-reading software. “We’re trying to be proactive here,” she said.


Amy Colella, a spokesperson for Walmart.com, said that company’s web site is “reasonably accessible” to the blind.


Discussion Questions: Should e-commerce sites be subject to the Americans With Disabilities Act? Does the speed of technological innovation mean software
such as screen-reading programs will always be trying to catch up with e-commerce sites? How would this scenario play out in practical terms for the merchant and blind shoppers
using its e-commerce site?

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15 Comments on "Blind Web Surfers Sue Target for Access"


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Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

Not only first off the mark today, but possibly one of the first addressing the issue any which way when I wrote a piece for http://www.just-food about selling to the visually impaired back in August 2004. For those of you who don’t subscribe, I did cover ways in which some e-commerce sites were being made available. Since then, the technology with this challenge as with so many others has moved on enormously. There is little or no excuse for any particular group to be deliberately excluded.

Franklin Benson
Guest
Franklin Benson
15 years 7 months ago

I would be interested to see what the marginal increase in sales is versus the cost of implementing the technology. I would guess that on a purely financial scale, the return on investment is negative.

That said, disability access should be done anyway: its the right thing to do, it has positive P.R. effects, and it might be the law.

Laura Davis-Taylor
Guest
Laura Davis-Taylor
15 years 7 months ago
Thank you for publishing a piece on this topic. It is an issue very close to my heart, as my mother is blind and the President of the NFB Chapter for Florida. I attend their yearly meetings and am very close the challenges that they face with this disability. It has only been a handful of years that the blind have been able to actively use their computers — including email and the Internet — to communicate, stay informed and purchase product. For the blind, the ability to do so has been almost life changing. I have personally witnessed what it’s done for my mom and her friends. We must remember that the alternative is Braille — and it hardly compares to the Web. Mobility and having access to get what they need is something that blind people see as a right. Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself if you’d want the same! Giving the blind Web access involves avoiding creative like Flash that “hides” the text that Jaws accesses to read the… Read more »
Ian Percy
Guest
15 years 7 months ago
The politically correct line we all have to walk here is a fine one indeed. No one wants to disparage people with disabilities and no one wants them disadvantaged already more than they endure every day of their lives. And let’s face it, there are lots of ways to be blind. I have no doubt that companies like Target are on top of the latest technologies when it comes to internet shopping and that they will employ them in the most effective manner possible. Bernice is right when she says there really is no excuse not to do so. But there is this cultural ‘thing’ in America that butts up against this discussion. Too many of us think America owes us pretty well everything. And if I don’t get it right now in a way that’s convenient to me…I’ll sue. I’m not talking about blind folks wanting to use the internet – I’m talking about this self-destructive dependency that seems so pervasive in our society. In this case with the NFB I’m hoping I can… Read more »
David Livingston
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

It really should be up to individual retailers to decide if they want to be more accessible to the blind. Will there be a return on this investment? There are always going to be some crybabies who complain that they are not being accommodated. French Canadians whine about web sites not being in French. I’m sure there are millions of web sites that are not easily accessible to the blind, including my own. Target was just picked on because they are a large corporation.

Anna Murray
Guest
Anna Murray
15 years 7 months ago

I wonder why no one is talking about a more imaginative solution here. This is the internet after all.

First, to the point of the commenter above on ROI: What’s the ROI on curb cuts? Wheelchair-accessible rest rooms? It’s about access, not about return.

Now, that said, obviously cost is a factor in everything. Online retailers, especially small ones, could face real hardship if everything they do must be made compatible with blind-reading software.

So, back to my original point: a more imaginative solution. The web is replete with aggregators. There are aggregators of news, video clips, music, as well as products. eCommerce sites run on databases. What about forming a consortium of retailers who will pump out their product databases in an XML feed? A web site, set up specifically to accommodate reader software, then receives this information. I imagine that funding would be available for this effort somewhere. There *is* ROI on a unique destination such as this: The Amazon for the Blind.

James Tenser
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

An important story for consciousness-raising. I had thought next to nothing about this issue, even though I have a an e-commerce software company as a client!

Certainly, online retailers need to take all reasonable steps to accommodate customers whose abilities may be limited. This is a matter of fairness, public relations, and corporate citizenship. But first, site operators must be made aware that there is an opportunity to communicate to the visually impaired.

Target’s push-back seems inexplicable to me. Why wouldn’t the company acknowledge that it could do better in this area and begin taking steps? To be fair, its platform (“Powered by Amazon”) may have some inherent technical limitations in this regard. But once this type of best practice is identified, major firms should get to work at being best.

Laura Davis-Taylor
Guest
Laura Davis-Taylor
15 years 7 months ago

Target was not picked on because they are a large corporation. They were picked on because millions of people that love their products, have no cars to easily go to the store and desire to purchase from them can not.

The NFB has no desire to randomly sue corporations; they don’t have the finances or resources to do so. They simply want to be able to take advantage of technologies that help them live normal lives and buy from a beloved store. Millions of blind people are not alone in this…their spouses and families support them as well.

Due to a stunning increase in blindness due to macular degeneration and diabetes, more and more of us will be touched by this — perhaps even directly. Once again, this is a personal ethics opinion but it would be nice to approach it with empathy.

Bob Bridwell
Guest
Bob Bridwell
15 years 7 months ago

While not the correct PC line, one has to wonder if all the other retailers (Kmart, Sears, etc.) are compatible with the sight-challenged? Making brick and mortar handicapped-accessible has been routinely done for the last 25 years or so.

I suspect that Target was targeted and the NFB wanted them to immediately change their website and Target probably wouldn’t/couldn’t comply immediately.

It has probably cost Target more in bad publicity than to give into the demands. On the other hand, what retailer would want to give any customer any reason to go elsewhere to shop? In truth quite few, since there is so little brand loyalty today.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 7 months ago
We are so PC and so afraid of being called “insensitive” and so willing to let our guilt overcome our good sense. Bernice Hurst put it in a nutshell for me: “There is little or no excuse for any particular group to be deliberately excluded.” So, let’s examine some other groups that are “deliberately” excluded from shopping online at Target: People without computers, people with brain afflictions, Watusi tribesmen, non-English speakers, those with dyslexia or are otherwise unable to read well or at all, most children, those without credit or debit cards, individuals in a comatose state, etc. I suspect that when you add all these up, there are more of them than there are of blind people. Lawsuit City. This is just plain silly. Why hasn’t the National Federation of the Blind sued retailers to provide Braille catalogs? And what about shopping websites that we download to our mobile phones and PDAs? Will those devices have to incorporate special software for the blind? Classy retailers will do the right thing at a pace they… Read more »
Karen McNeely
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

I’m curious why Target is being singled out here. Certainly, that can’t be the only major retailer with the same situation. I don’t know when ADA was passed but I would guess that internet commerce was very limited then, if it existed at all, so I’m sure it does not specifically address website access.

Wouldn’t it be more effective to lobby for an amendment to the act to make it a legal requirement rather than start a law suit over it?

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

I really like Anna Murray’s comment. This is the internet and creativity is almost limitless. Can’t we all get along on this matter and build a new model? I am getting really tired of suit-happy organizations and individuals. Did anyone make a pitch to Target about what the blind, or for that matter any other “challenged” group, wanted? I think, in today’s world, most every large retailer is doing their best not to step on anyone’s toes, and if they do, sorry, it wasn’t intentional. It is like last year when some Christian religious organization wanted to sue Wal-Mart for celebrating, “the Holidays” rather than Christmas. I think the larger the target, the more flack you attract, mostly for publicity for the cause.

So let’s discuss what can be done now or in the future, and make ourselves a more inclusive society, rather than confrontational.

MARK DECKARD
Guest
MARK DECKARD
15 years 7 months ago

I really think the innovation and accommodation needs to be for use at the individual level.

Rather than setting precedence with a big Target case that may mandate millions in forced spending to provide, maintain and audible access to the blind, why not plow all the energy and resources into providing and developing software and methods that can “read” ANY website, then make this technology available to the blind? Sort of a seeing-eye PC….

John Pare
Guest
John Pare
15 years 6 months ago
I am the Director of Public Relations at the National Federation of the Blind. I would like to clear up a few items. We attempted for months to work with Target to make their web site accessible but they refused. It is not difficult or expensive for a company to make their web site accessible. This is especially true when one is initially implementing the web site. In these cases, the cost to make a web site accessible is typically negligible. In fact, Target has said that it would not be very expensive for them to make their web site accessible. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that the Target web site be accessible. Target tried to argue that the 16-year-old law did not apply to their web site but the judge ruled that it does. Let me provide some brief comments on screen reading software. Neither Chris Danielsen nor the National Federation of the Blind were the creators of screen reading software. There are several companies which produce this type of software one of… Read more »
Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

It’s dumb to get bad publicity when it could’ve been prevented at negligible cost. Target is usually smarter than this.

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