Update: Target ruling may force retailers to adjust Web sites

Judge says federal, state laws require that sites are accessible to the blind

A federal court judge's ruling this week that Target.com, the home page of retailer Target Corp., must be accessible to blind persons under California laws, could extend state and federal disabilities statutes to the Internet.

The ruling is part of a memorandum and order issued by Judge Marilyn Patel of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco in connection with a lawsuit  filed 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.

Patel's latest order also certified the lawsuit, filed by the national and California National Federation of the Blind (NFB) organizations and blind college student Bruce "BJ" Sexton, as a class action on behalf of blind Internet users throughout the U.S. The lawsuit contends that the Target.com violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and two California civil rights statutes.

In her memorandum and order, Patel also denied the Minneapolis-based retailer's request for summary judgment in the lawsuit.

According to Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at the Santa Clara, Calif., University School of Law, the judge's order concluded that ADA laws require that retailer Web sites offer features that help blind patrons shop in a company's physical stores.

The judge's ruling also found that California disability laws require that commercial Web sites allow handicapped persons to tackle all of the tasks that are available to other patrons, Goldman said. 

Patel's class action ruling allows the list of plaintiffs in the lawsuit to include any blind person in the U.S. who tried to enter Target.com but was denied access to "the enjoyment of goods and services offered in Target stores."

In a statement, Marc Maurer, president of the Baltimore-based NFB, said "all e-commerce businesses should take note of this decision and immediately take steps to open their doors to the blind."

The WebAim project of Utah State University's Center for Persons with Disabilities lists several options for retailers looking to make Web sites accessible to handicapped persons.

They include letting users complete mouse-driven tasks via a keyboard and providing text descriptions under graphics, photographs and other images on a site.

Dan Nystedt of the IDG News Service contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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