I can't believe the really dumb comments on blogs and forums discussing this lawsuit. Did anyone read the details before posting an inane comment? Of course not.
- The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) raise issues over inaccessibility of Target.com in May 2005 — nothing is done.
- Further talks in January — nothing is done. NFB file a class-action suit (requires a named claimant and unfortunately provides ammo to the critics because he happens to be a student so he's obviously on the take, right?), the suit also has another 50,000 names behind it.
- Unfortunately, NFB and other interest groups have tried reason and now have had to resort to the big stick approach of legislation — which is why it's there in the first place — to safeguard everyone's basic rights (individual or corporate).
- Sueing for money is not the aim — raising awareness is. Already within a day of this news being published by WaSP they had fixed the image-based submit buttons. So you could say the tactic is working — a lot of people are talking about it that's for sure.
We are talking about website accessibility — not blind people wanting to drive cars, see the views in national parks or other stupid "sue everyone" culture comments.
Why should someone with a disability be penalised by having to pay more for goods at a less competitive retailer? Website accessibility makes sound business sense because more people can buy stuff from you. Customers win, retailer win and shareholders win. Oh, and you get a warm feeling inside for being ethical and milk that for as much PR as possible...
Website accessibility is not just about blind people. With your arm in a cast have you tried using the mouse? It's hard, but knowing keyboard shortcuts I could probably get by. At Target.com you can't do that — you must use a mouse. Escalate that short-term condition to arthritis, paraplegia, stroke victim etc — you can see the point I'm making. It can affect us all at any time in any number of ways. Then there are those with cognitive and hearing difficulties to consider also...
Website accessibility is achievable and "free" if it's ingrained into the development framework and personal skills / professionalism of the developer team. For Target, they will need to spend some time (and hence money) to put appropriate alt text in place and ensure that any coding techniques that place a barrier on keyboard access are replaced or amended. I can almost guarantee that this will be done before this goes to court because that's how it is. Naturally, we'd like to see compliance to "AA" web accessibility standards and the whole nine yards with respect to valid markup, separation of presentation from structure etc but I think we'll only see quite modest changes.
Business owners including their IT managers need to be aware of the legal issues (the lawsuit and resulting news will help), understand the business benefits (easier support, cheaper to host and more customers!) and learn what to look for and ask of a developer they hire for any redesigns.
Again, this falls to us as accessibility and web standards advocates to continue to strive in educating clients and developers alike. As individuals we can play our part but I'm also looking towards WaSP to reach out to the mainstream media reporting the lawsuit.
Update 29 September 2006:
I have since posted further coverage on Target's Accessibility Lawsuit.