Tarjay: ixnay on the lindbay (and thamnophissirtalis)

Happy Thanksgiving, Eh? It's Columbus Day's IT Blogwatch: in which Target gets a spanking for not being accessible to the blind. Not to mention why grass snakes can be deadly...

Linda Rosencrance and Dan Nystedt are very much alive: [You're fired -Ed.]

A federal judge last week ruled that Target.com, the home page of retailer Target Corp., must be accessible to blind persons under California laws. The ruling could extend state and federal disabilities statutes to the Internet, experts said. At the same time, Judge Marilyn Patel, of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, certified a lawsuit filed against Target by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) as a class action on behalf of U.S. blind Target.com users.

...

The national and California NFB organizations, along with blind college student Bruce “BJ” Sexton, filed a lawsuit last year alleging that Target had failed to make its Web site accessible to the blind and then ignored the issue when confronted with complaints. The lawsuit contends that Target.com violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ... [which] require retailers’ Web sites to help blind patrons shop in a company’s physical stores ... and two California statutes ... [which] require that commercial Web sites allow handicapped persons to perform the same tasks as other patrons.

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Patel’s class-action ruling allows the list of plaintiffs in the lawsuit to include any blind person in the U.S. who has tried to enter Target.com but has been denied access to “the enjoyment of goods and services offered in Target stores.” [more]

Carol Ruth Shepherd expands:

The ... ADA, Title III provides that “goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations” of places of “public accommodation” must be made accessible to disabled citizens, absent undue hardship. Many states have laws with identical language. In 1999, a group of visually impaired plaintiffs sued AOL, claiming that its browser would not interoperate with computer software developed to read the contents of computer screens to visually impaired users. The plaintiffs in the AOL case were not successful, due to the fact that the ADA was considered to apply only to “bricks and mortar” businesses, and not to purely Internet-based facilities, which fell outside of the commonly-accepted meaning of a public accommodation.

Any websites which are federal government business, or of companies doing business with the federal government, are explicitly covered under the terms of a recent amendment to the ADA. However, until the Supreme Court rules specifically on the issue, it is hard to know whether non-government websites will be brought in under the terms of the ADA’s public accommodations provisions. In PGA Tour, Inc. v. Martin, 532 U.S. 661 (2001), the Supreme Court signaled its view that the public accommodations provision of the ADA should be read expansively rather than restrictively. There are signs that the law will be changing, and soon. In October of 2004, Elliott Spitzer, then Attorney General of New York, reached an agreement with Ramada and Priceline to make their websites accessible to the impaired. As websites have become more and more sophisticated, combining elements such as Flash multimedia with content generated dynamically on the fly, more and more content is inaccessible to the visually and aurally impaired.

Target is unusual among its competitors in not providing access to the impaired. [more]

Which made Davie think:

I haven't given much thought to the visually impaired accessing the internet. Honestly, I am ignorant when it comes to services or technology that is available to the disabled. How do they function in today's world of technology. Is it easier for them to partake in our everyday activities, or are they excluded from the things that make my life easier?

We are a visual country & unfortunately, not everyone can enjoy the latest HDTV, or flash media on their favorite website ... Walmart has a website that allows visually impaired users to have the websites contents read through software installed on their computer. So it is possible. [more]

Micah Johnson asks, "What does this mean for your site?":

First off, read up on the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) ... Using alt and title attributes (in hyperlinks) should be part of your best practices no matter what. Not only do they help make your web site more accessible to people with disabilities, they also makes your site more accessible to the search engines. If laws are passed, web site owners and companies may be forced to make these changes.

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Here are 10 Quick Tips to make your site more accessible from the WAI:

  1. Images & animations: Use the alt attribute to describe the function of each visual.
  2. Image maps. Use the client-side map and text for hotspots.
  3. Multimedia. Provide captioning and transcripts of audio, and descriptions of video.
  4. Hypertext links. Use text that makes sense when read out of context. For example, avoid “click here.”
  5. Page organization. Use headings, lists, and consistent structure. Use CSS for layout and style where possible.
  6. Graphs & charts. Summarize or use the longdesc attribute.
  7. Scripts, applets, & plug-ins. Provide alternative content in case active features are inaccessible or unsupported.
  8. Frames. Use the noframes element and meaningful titles.
  9. Tables. Make line-by-line reading sensible. Summarize.
  10. Check your work. Validate. Use tools, checklist, and guidelines at http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG. [more]

But self-confessed political junkie, DucoNihilum, protests:

Bull****. A company shouldn't legally HAVE to follow the needs of every single person. I don't put long descriptions next to my photos (I have a flickr website), should I go to jail or be fined because a minority can't view my product? It's not my fault they're blind, I have no responsibility to cater to them. [more]

Van Helsing spies moonbats:

[Target is just] the latest deep-pocket corporation to be looted by lawyers in a class action lawsuit ... This has given me some excellent ideas for lawsuits of my own. I'll sue Hollywood for making movies that aren't accessible to the blind. Then I'll sue the music industry for producing albums that aren't accessible to the deaf.

Let's see, who else has money…

There are a lot of golf courses here in Phoenix. I'll sue them for not being accessible to quadriplegics. [more]

And Quinton Figueroa agrees:

I totally understand how challenging and hard it may be to live a blind life. But ... this is definitely taking things too far. First of all, Target is not discriminating [against] anyone. They're not saying blind people are not allowed to view our website because we discriminate against them. They simply did not make their website accessible to blind people and that's their business decision, it's not discrimination. [more]

But Heather Kirkwood has a thoughtful counter:

What amazes me is that a big retailer like Target doesn't see the potential of blind/visually-impaired customers online. HELLO! Wake up - we blind/visually impaired (what ever term floats your boat) people often don't drive. I buy a lot of things online to save the time and expense of taking a taxi. I'm a great online customer. Target should be jumping up and down for a customer like me.

The other thing that boggles my mind is the notion that in this day and age, a Web site is any less of a public presence than a brick and mortar store. This is the information age, last I checked. [more]

Mike Cherim calls the ruling, "A triumph of sorts":

[But] in the world of web-is-money-first [it's] a small blow that is feared to mushroom into a costly problem. Some Internet merchants may feel they have better things to do than to acknowledge and cater to the needs of a “small” user group like the disabled — specifically the blind ... Some people feel this lawsuit is frivolous and that private businesses should be left to decide on their own whether or not they accommodate these small user groups. Others, meanwhile, think the lawsuit is a good move and quite necessary.

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So, is it Frivolous? The short answer: Hell No! ... Many businesses, as I wrote in response to a thread on the Web Standards Group (WSG) mailing list where the issue ended up being hotly debated last week, are notorious for putting fiscal concerns ahead of matters of compassion and social responsibility, and that often they act only when forced to — or when their lawyers shake their heads after calculating an unfavorable risk assessment. The “force” can come from two sources: the public in the form of bad press or via consumer boycott; or as a result of the judicial system acting on behalf of government, organizations, or individuals.

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it’s not that big of a deal to conform. In my opinion an accessible web site will arguably cost only slightly more — for the extra attention to detail and alternatives where required — but it’s not a huge sum. Also, think of this: Target, as a prime example, has many outlets throughout the United States. All of these outlets conform to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements for physical locations of commerce. You know, stuff like ramps, wider doors, restroom accommodations, and parking spots. As you can image, all this physical conformity must have cost and arm and a leg. Yet, Target has one web site. Would it cost millions, hundreds, or even tens of thousands to make it accessible? Very unlikely. [more]

Ruth Ellison says it more succinctly, absent obfuscation:

It’s sad that it has to get to this stage before action is taken by the big corporations. Remember, accessibility is best done proactively - not reactively. [more]

Buffer overflow:

Around the Net Around Computerworld Previously in IT Blogwatch

And finally... Why grass snakes can be deadly

Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/adviser/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and spam. A 20 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. You too can pretend to be Richi's friend on Facebook, or just use boring old email: blogwatch@richi.co.uk.

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