Target.com Case May Expand Disability Laws on the Web

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.

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

Target.com Image

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) and two California statutes.

According to Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at the Santa Clara University School of Law, the judges order concluded that ADA statutes require retailers Web sites to help blind patrons shop in a companys physical stores.

The judges ruling found that California state disability laws require that commercial Web sites allow handicapped persons to perform the same tasks as other patrons, Goldman said.

Patels 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.

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

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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