Target Acquired: Four Cheers!

Saturday, August 30, 2008 0:30 | Filed in Accessibility, Standards, Technology

(as spotted on Señor Lawson’s blog)

It appears that the NFB have reached a settlement with in their contention that Target’s website was inaccessible to disabled people and in breach of some law or other…

This tends to polarise opinion; you get one camp who don’t feel that the free market should be forced to choose who they cater for, and you get another where people like me think that companies should be forced to take reasonable steps to cater for those with disabilities. But as I’ve had this discussion before, I want to focus this specific post very much on the lawsuit and consequences thereof.

Bruce points out that two concerns he has are:

…The terms of the settlement also means that the only people being catered for by this settlement are blind screenreader users

…The danger is that corporations and developers will start developing for the assistive technologies and monitoring tools (machines) rather than people, and that would be a very retrograde step.

Bruce Lawson

I half agree with him. I accept that the settlement does only cater for blind people with screen reading technology, but as that’s the person and organisation representing them who brought the lawsuit, I think it would have been unrealistic to expect “full accessibility to all” being a mandatory outcome. Indeed, in the comments on the Opera development network, Bruce does acknowledge this point.

His second point is more worthy of addressing though; and he makes a third, elsewhere, stating that this isn’t the landmark victory people were hoping for, which is why he only offers “two cheers” for the settlement instead of the more usual three.

It isn’t a landmark victory. Target have offered up a settlement precisely in order to avoid the risk of a landmark victory — the assumption may now be that sites may have to be accessible, but it hasn’t been fully tested in court:

there is no admission or concession by Target, direct or indirect, express or implied, that is in any way inaccessible or that Target has violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act, California Civil Code §§ 51 et seq., the Disabled Persons Act, California Civil Code §§ 54 et seq., the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12181 et seq., or any other federal, state, or local law, regulation, order, or rule. NFB-Target Lawsuit: Final Settlement

It’s not the gun-to-the-head a lot of accessibility advocates might have wanted. Someone else may have to go through the same procedure later (although the fact that Target settled may encourage others to do the same). However, Target are going to take various steps to make their site accessible.

They will ensure their site meets the Target Online Assistive Technology Guidelines, that screen reader users may “acquire the same information and engage in the same transactions as are available to sighted guests with substantially equivalent ease of use”; they will make changes already identified; they will confer with the NFB every six months, Target will pay the NFB to carry out user testing, they will pay the NFB to carry out an annual technical assessment, and every Target website developer will receive at least one day’s web accessibility training.

The training, the user testing and the annual assessment would all seem to run counter to Bruce’s worry that the settlement will encourage accessibility by machines rather than people, because even though quarterly testing will be machine-based, there are good people-based tests being carried out yearly, in addition to any feedback from the public or from the NFB that Target receive.

I can’t see that as a bad result in any way, shape, or form. The initial problem — that Target’s site was felt to be inaccessible — will surely be resolved by this; Target’s development team will have a better understanding of web accessibility and the site will be more accessible to more people. And that was surely the real point of the exercise.

I don’t particularly want the owners of inaccessible websites to be punished; I want their sites to be made accessible. And that is what this has achieved.

“Landmark victories” may make for a good headline, but they are less important than building accessible websites and improving working practices to avoid discrimination. And that’s what I would think this settlement will achieve, so I don’t really see that there is much to complain about…

The TOATG cover more than just screenreaders, too — covering the use of colour, contrasts, use of proper header and structural markup, keyboard accessibility, extending timeouts and so on, as well as the alt text/ link text/ accessible form labels commonly associated with screenreader accessibility. So I think it will benefit a much wider range of people that just ‘blind people with a screen reader’.

Note also that the headline figure put aside by Target — $6 million — does not go to one individual. Each individual may receive no more than $7000, and they only get that if they have more than one claim. Again, I think this is good — it prevents it being seen as a “sue for greed” type case, because what is important is not so much compensating people for being discriminated against, it’s stopping it from happening again.

So I’ll offer four cheers, to make up for the one Bruce held back on. The site will be accessible to a wider range of people than ever before; they will have yearly user testing and technical assessment, they will give their developers accessibility training. As far as I can see, the case has achieved precisely what it should have: an accessible website.

But you can read the court documents for yourselves — including the ‘list of changes’ and the ‘Target Online Assistive Technology Guidelines’ as they have set up a website which…

…has been established in accordance with the court order issued by the Honorable Judge Marylin Hall Patel in National Federation of the Blind, et. al., v. Target Corporation.NFB Target

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4 Comments to Target Acquired: Four Cheers!

  1. Dave says:

    September 5th, 2008 at 8:08 pm

    I’ve never thought of designing for accessibility as polarizing, but I suppose it is: the people who know how to develop for accessibility and do so from the beginning for no extra cost, and the people who don’t know how and realize too late they they’ve back themselves into a corner that they don’t know how to get out of.

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