Target Web Site Accessibility Lawsuit Settlement

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This post comes somewhat late, but I didn’t have my blog up in August this year. But this is an important milestone for the legal aspect of Web Accessibility and will probably bring accessibility into the requirements process of more and more web sites, especially shopping sites. And in general, it should be on the radar of any company or organization that complies with accessibility requirements on a physical level under the Americans with Disabilities At (ADA) – for example, making sure that there are access ramps and automatic doors in a building.

The courts now also slowly start to acknowledge that virtual stores should provide the same type of access for people with disabilities, e.g., blind customers accessing an online store with a screenreader or in general customers who use keyboard-based input mechanisms rather than a mouse.

In August, Target and the National Federation for the Blind (NFB) have settled a class action lawsuit initiated on behalf of a blind user who could not order from the Target website, because Target had not tested their site for accessibility.

It is ironic that a private company got sued although there is no clear law that a public website has to be accessible – although it would clearly be in the best interest of the company, since any lost customer is not good business in general.

In comparison to private companies, federal government agencies and agencies that receive federal funding for their projects, are required by law to make their websites and web applications accessible under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (29 U.S.C. 794d). Most developers who work under such contracts though do not even find accessibility under Section 508 in their requirements documents. And, even if it is mentioned in a contract, government agencies often don’t really follow up on the requirement. There still seem to be a lack of follow-through on part of the government to make sure that companies understand the true meaning and value of Section 508. Well, at least Target developers will get a good education provided by NFB, as part of the settlement. That’s a good first start.

Summary of settlement (found at WebAIM.org):

  • Target makes no admission or concession that its website is or ever was inaccessible.
  • Target admits no violations of the ADA or any other law.
  • The website will be brought into compliance with the Target Online Assistive Technology Guidelines (2MB Word Doc) and will be certified by NFB as compliant with these guidelines. NFB will monitor compliance over 3 years from initial certification.
  • Target will pay NFB $90,000 for the certification and first year of monitoring and then $40,000 per year thereafter.
  • Target’s web developers will receive at least one day of accessibility training, to be provided by NFB at a cost of up to $15,000 per session.
  • Target will respond to accessibility complaints from web site users.
  • Target will pay damages of $6,000,000 to the class action claimants, or at most $7000 per claimant, and will pay $20,000 to the California Center for the Blind on behalf of the primary claimant, Bruce Sexton, Jr.
  • Payment of legal fees is yet to be determined.

Full settlement text can be found on the NFB website.

See an interview with Bruce Sexton, the blind student who initiated the lawsuit: