For almost two years, the Target corporation has been the legal target of the National Federation for the Blind (NFB) over access to its website by blind people. Last year a California judge allowed a lawsuit by the NFB to proceed. The NFB is insisting that Target make its website accessible to the visually impaired. In court, Target argued that the federal Americans With Disabilities Act applies only to its stores, but in Septembr of 2006, the judge ruled that online stores also are “places of public accommodation.” The NFB says that Target added “Alt-text” to pictures on its site, so that automated readers can describe them to blind shoppers, but a visually impaired person still has to use a mouse or other pointing device to buy stuff, and therefore the site still includes “inaccessible image maps and graphical features that make it difficult for blind users to navigate it.” The suit also says that blind users need to have key-stroking ability rather than a mouse to click on selected items and to complete purchases. More than a year after the original lawsuit was filed, the court has widened the NFB lawsuit by allowing it to proceed as a class action suit. This puts increasing public visibility on Target to find a way to settle the case. The Minnesota-based retailer says that its site is fully accessible for the blind. “Target is committed to serving all of our guests,” the company told the Minneapolis St-Paul Star Tribune. “As our online business has evolved, we have made significant enhancements to improve the experience of our guests who use assistive technologies.” But the NFB says this just isn’t so. The Federation claims that the problem is not hard to solve, because standard screen-reading devices can read Web pages aloud to users. The problem is these screen-readers don’t work on Target’s site. “We frequently get to this point,” the NFB added. “Virtually all companies say they are willing to make changes to fix that. It’s usually inadvertent. We contacted Target and they said they would not fix it. As a last resort, we brought them to court.” The NFB maintains a list of websites that it has certified as accessible to the blind. Wal-Mart’s website, for example, is accessible to the blind, the Federation says.
Target has tried to get this case dismissed, but U.S. District Judge Marilyn Patel denied Target’s motion earlier this month. The judge noted in her ruling that Target has been taking steps since the suit was filed to make its site more accessible to the blind. The giant retailer said the class action designation was just a procedural matter, and “in no way addresses the merit of the claims.” The NFB, which has at least 50,000 members, is not seeking monetary damages, only access and the cost of its legal fees. “This isn’t high-tech stuff,” said a Federation attorney. People with vision problems will become a larger demographic as the population of baby boomers grows old. This lawsuit not only challenges Target’s website, it goes straight to the company’s brand image of being sensitive to community needs. “Target is committed to social, economic and environmental well-being in every community,” the company says on its inaccessible website. “We’re working hard to enhance life through integrity and hard work.” The NFB lawsuit suggests that Target isn’t working hard enough to resolve this problem with the blind. Target is likely to attempt to settle this lawsuit just so shoppers won’t “see” it in the headlines anymore. But until they decide to settle, readers are urged to call Target on their toll-free “online services” line at 1-800-591-3869. Simply tell the company, “Show some vision as a corporation, and settle your lawsuit with the National Federation for the Blind. I hope you can see your way through to make your website accessible to people with visual impairments.”