Target sued for refusing to make their website accessible

In early February the news broke about the US National Federation of the Blind (NFB) bringing legal action against Target corporation for not making their website accessible despite being made aware of the problems.

I first learned about this from Derek Featherstone’s post Taking Aim at Target(.com), with Molly E. Holzschlag reinforcing the message in Targeting Target: this lawsuit needs to cost Target enough to make corporations realise that they too need to make their websites accessible.

There are a lot of strange comments on Derek’s and Molly’s posts from people who believe it should be up to every company to decide whether its website should be accessible or not. The worst comments I found via Bruce Lawson’s post The webdev community’s response to the Target Lawsuit where he links to the Target sued for poor accessibility thread at the Sitepoint forum. Oh boy, what can I say. I am absolutely disgusted by the attitude and complete ignorance displayed by some of the people participating in the discussion.

Just one day after the first post, Derek Featherstone posted a follow-up, Staying on Target, noting that Target’s website had been updated since the previous day, removing one of the barriers. First nothing happens for nine months, and when the bad publicity appears they fix one of the problems in 24 hours. Talk about lip service.

It’s been over a month now and I haven’t heard more about this. Target.com is still missing alt attributes for over 200 images just on the home page. A validation reveals no less than 526 markup errors.

Looks like they are just hoping for the whole thing to go away.

Posted on March 22, 2006 in Accessibility, Quicklinks

Comments

  1. I love that most of the negative comments go along the lines of “blind people yadda yadda yadda”. Accessibility isn’t just about blind people!

    Morally, I think once you get to a certain size when you are targeting your products/services to a whole sector, you SHOULD have to provide accessibility. Yes, it’s going to be somewhat arbitrary, but I do feel that those with disabilities (including blind people) actually have a right to be able to navigate and use a website.

    Technically i think ignorance is one problem, CMS programmers being completely oblivious to proper HTML techniques is another. I’m guessing that the latter is a large part of the issue in this case.

  2. March 22, 2006 by Anonymous

    Accessible? Check out seb.se, seb.de…

  3. March 22, 2006 by fens

    Are the lawsuits based on law? If so what particular laws are they? Is it based on the company’s headquaters company or the hosted countries site? And how much acessibilty is a hinderance? Where is the line drawn?

    Not being mean here, I’m totally for equality on the web. We all have to do our part. But does that mean they could sue a blog or ordinary person’s site? The legal implications could be massive. I don’t think we’ll see RIAA scale things though! But if a person thinks a possible fanacial gain can be made people could stoop to it.

    But kudos to this stand and hopefully making the larger sites that would be regularly used more accessible to everyone.

  4. I’ve been trying to keep up with this situation since February, too. Reading the comments sure shines a light on the current viewpoint towards accessibility viewed by many. I think ‘ignorance’, as you put it, sums things up sufficiently. Hopefully recognition of accessibility begins to increase as a result of the Target situation, and others that follow.

  5. March 22, 2006 by Raz0RP0!n+

    Not in agreement. If Target doesn’t want blind peoples money they shouldn’t be required to make it accessible to them. It’s simple.

  6. March 22, 2006 by Wm. Quorgnine

    According to Raz0RP0!n+,

    If Target doesn’t want blind peoples money they shouldn’t be required to make it accessible to them. It’s simple.

    Well that’s great! And if Target doesn’t want Jewish people’s money, then they should be allowed to stop those people at the door? If they want to discriminate against women or gays or anyone, then that’s okay? If they want to discriminate against wheelchair-bound straight white males by not installing wheelchair ramps or elevators, then that’s okay? It is no different.

    Simple? What’s simple is adding ALT attributes to images.

  7. Not in agreement. If Target doesn’t want blind people[‘]s money they shouldn’t be required to make it accessible to them. It’s simple.

    So if the bus company decided not to make their buses accessible to people who use wheelchairs, would that be okay, assuming their argument was “we don’t want their money?”

    How about if the grocery store said only people under 5’ tall can enter because they refuse to make the door large enough, or if the gas station’s restrooms are men only?

    I can see how the Target lawsuit can be considered a form of discrimination — especially if Target was aware of the problem and refused to address it.

  8. March 23, 2006 by Alex

    OK, I get it. But where do you draw the line?

    Government sites should be required to be accessible, because they are the single source for necessary services.

    But Target is not. It’s popular, but it isn’t a single source, nor is it necessary. How about your local neighborhood hardware store (where they still exist).. Same rules? How about your personal website, providing unique insight into ..something..?

    It’s obvious (to me) that the expectation goes away at some point in that food chain, but where? And if it’s a legal requirement, how do you differentiate the groups?

    Personally, I think: you can’t, so it can’t be consistent or enforceable as a law.

    Doesn’t it make more sense to reward the companies that do things right than to try to penalize the ones that do things wrong?

    To those who suggest replacing “disabled” with “black” or “gay”, etc. That just doesn’t make any sense. Unless you’re arguing that all black and gay people have special needs that require everyone in the world to spend extra time and/or money to accomodate. I trust that isn’t the message you’re trying to get across.

    On another level, how is this different from building web sites that don’t display properly in Opera, or that require javascript to function? Both poor design and business decisions, but…ultimately, business decisions. Or to not translate your website into Tagalog, cutting out a significant percentage of Bay Area families…probably on par with blind web users.

    This is only a hot button issue because we collectively think that physically disabled people suffer enough at the hands of the everyday world already…and this is true…but does the omission of professionalism or money which results in a more difficult online shopping experience for them really qualify as the ultimate sin against human decency we are making it out to be? Or is it just another short-sighted and kinda icky business decision, like not carrying Barbara’s cereals because General Mills buys up all of your shelf space in the breakfast food aisle?

    I know what I think. It’s lame, but it’s not (and shouldn’t be) illegal and sometimes it is a reasonable, but short-sighted, business decision.

    Maybe we need a “acccessibility hall of fame and shame” site so that those of us who care can use the information to inform our buying decisions.

  9. just on the sitepoint thread issue, it appears that “aspen” (aka chris beasley) lost his team leader (rank just below administrator) forum status as a result of the views he expressed. maybe i’m wrong, but his sudden demotion following the debacle can’t be mere coincidence…

  10. While I think that it’s good if Target and other multi-million corps started making their websites accessible, I don’t agree that you can sue something. What’s the law behind this?

    If they don’t want money from the people who use the accessibility functions, then that’s their problem. We can ask them, sign a petition, or even do it pro bono for them, but in the end it’s up to them.

    Then again, you can sue for anything in the US… Fast food make you fat? Sue. Coffee too hot? Sue.

  11. March 23, 2006 by Anonymous

    “Well that’s great! And if Target doesn’t want Jewish people’s money, then they should be allowed to stop those people at the door?”

    Yes.

    “If they want to discriminate against women or gays or anyone, then that’s okay?”

    Yes.

    “If they want to discriminate against wheelchair-bound straight white males by not installing wheelchair ramps or elevators, then that’s okay?”

    Yes.

    “It is no different.”

    I completely agree.

    “So if the bus company decided not to make their buses accessible to people who use wheelchairs, would that be okay, assuming their argument was “we don’t want their money?”

    Yes, that would be completely okay.

    “How about if the grocery store said only people under 5’ tall can enter because they refuse to make the door large enough, or if the gas station’s restrooms are men only?”

    Fine with me.

    Think of all the money Target would lose, and for good reason. If any company does any of the above things, they deserve what they get due to capitalism. Let the free market work!

    Is walmart.com or amazon.com accessible? If so, they should shop there instead.

  12. March 23, 2006 by John Hansen

    Sorry, the above post was mine.

  13. @Alex,

    Very, very interesting comment (and the others who expressed the same view). Maybe I’m naive, but for private businesses I sincerely hope that reaching more customers and getting a better reputation, hence making more money, is incentive enough to make something accessible to disabled people as well as as many web browsers and operating systems as possible.

    Everything isn’t black and white, and I think it’s very difficult to have laws that will enforce this in a fair and consistent way.

  14. “I think it’s very difficult to have laws that will enforce this in a fair and consistent way.”

    That’s exactly true. I’d like to see accessible sites as much as the next developer, but I don’t understand why people (including this blog’s author?), think any person or company who has a website owes the world a particular kind of website.

    Unless I own the labour of the people who own and run Target, they don’t owe me anything. That kind of paradigm (once known as slavery) went out of style ages ago, as it should have. Suing because I want something from someone is ridiculous. I can just take my business elsewhere.

  15. What about a new net that is accessible, usable, semantic and only good valid content. :D

    I think that commercial companies can do whatever they want, it’s their money and their customers. What I think is that authorities, municipals, governments etc. must follow laws and guidelines. Not like it is now in Sweden that it is a recommendation. Then it will never be accessible.

  16. OMG, what a discussion, here and everywhere else. Full of deep insight and best intentions.

  17. March 23, 2006 by Alex

    @John Hansen:

    I get your point, but just to be clear: In many cases, it doesn’t make business sense to accomodate people with special needs. The best example in your list is installing wheelchair ramps in buses.

    We require it of municipal transportation authorities because they are often a single source for necessary services. No one competes with the Muni in SF, so there is no opportunity for capitalism to sort it out.

    For private businesses with competition (or potential competitors), every additional burden you put on them is reflected in some percentage of businesses failing (or never starting). This includes things like ADA compliance (and wheelchair ramps), but society in the form of Congress has decided that the additional burden is acceptable for the benefits to all.

    I don’t always agree with this, but it makes far more sense to me in the case of local businesses — a wheelchair-bound person can only shop at a few different grocery stores, and if they all decided that it didn’t make business sense to install ramps, then that person would have big problems maintaining their independence (we still value that, on paper).

    But web sites? Click away and Target never happened. The magic of the web allows us to switch vendor allegiances in a heartbeat, and there will always be someone who caters to our special needs or desires.

    So I’m not sympathetic to the notion that Target should be obligated to do anything for anyone, any more than my favorite supplier of furry costumes should be required to also rent tuxedos for weddings. But if I was in charge of Target’s web site, I’d fire the project manager who didn’t include accessibility as a design priority!

    Considering the amount of work necessary (and, honestly, at least in my experience, how much annoyance people using assistive technologies are willing to put up with to get their tasks accomplished), I consider it an extremely poor decision for a market leader like Target to ignore a couple percentage points of the web population… a small boutique, OK. But Target?? That would be like not supporting Safari. No excuse.

    And before someone brings up the point: Target probably uses a big homegrown CMS to manage their website, and it’s probably not a straightforward process to, say, add alt tags. Yup. Work it out. A 1% increase in sales would justify hiring a more effective CIO. Think about it.

    Click away.

  18. March 23, 2006 by Alex

    I meant “alt attributes”, of course. :-)

  19. I am astonished how much people care that those earning much money with their web site and business, will have to spend a little of that money back to make the web more accessible.

    I think, that is expressing much about society: People with disabilities? That are always the others and better, I do not see then.

    Heh! They all are part of our society and like doors have to be higher nowadays because some people refuse to stop becoming taller at 1.90m, so disabilities must be taken in concern, too.

    You cannot address everything, but nobody can tell me, that it is not possible to reduce Javascript to a minimum, do not present flash only, add alt attributes and make pages usabel with lynx.

    A web developer who does not know how to address these need, should have choosen another profession. And surely every company can chose web developers, who know what they are doing insted of asking anybody, who has made his own homepage.

    Beside that the companies live from our all money. So it would be a good idea if caring disabilities in society is not an empty phrase only and we all assist those, who cannot access the same things as we can.

    Strange thinking…

  20. March 23, 2006 by Raz0RP0!n+

    “And if Target doesn’t want Jewish people’s money, then they should be allowed to stop those people at the door? If they want to discriminate against women or gays or anyone, then that’s okay? If they want to discriminate against wheelchair-bound straight white males by not installing wheelchair ramps or elevators, then that’s okay? It is no different.”

    It is different!! If the Jewish community decided they wanted Target to have a kosher ONLY section for them or they wouldn’t shop there should they be forced to do it? Or if gays decided Target should sell assless chaps because it would make the shopping experience more comfortable, the government should force target to carry them? Busses are part of the government, and the government serves its people, but Target is a privately owned business.

    I think Target should make their website accessible to everyone per web standards. I don’t think they HAVE to though.

  21. March 24, 2006 by Jeff

    Actually, it’s a publically traded company:
    Target TGT (NYSE)

    Maybe they should sue Amazon instead:

    ©2006 Target.com. All rights reserved.
    The Bullseye Design and Bullseye Dog are trademarks of Target Brands, Inc.
    Powered by Amazon.com

  22. Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t the Target website managed by Amazon.com’s Merchant platform services? If so, these problems may be more a reflection on them then Target. I doubt Target’s a client who specifies, “Oh, and the markup has to be really bad. Validation is NOT allowed.”

  23. March 24, 2006 by Christian

    I think people need to reevaluate what is reality, and what is political. Here are some relevant definitions to help the diction impaired:

    discrimination: unfair treatment of a person or group on the basis of prejudice

    unaccommodating: offering no assistance; “rudely unaccommodating to the customers”; “icily neutral, disagreeably unhelpful”

    Many of the comparisons flying around on this and other blogs are simply irrational. The state of being blind could be argued as “unfair” but Target is not unfairly treating the blind. Target is treating the blind completely equal (and unaccommodating so)with the non-blind. Many may disagree with Target’s lack of accommodation, but let’s not confuse it with discrimination.

    I’m not sure people have completely thought out the solution either. Just as soon as Target adds alt attributes to every image on their site, the blind are going to start complaining that half of the images are just for layout purposes and are slowing down the screen readers by having alt text.

  24. A few people have made the point which struck me (and I’ve posted about), reading all those horrible comments… this issue will remain a massive problem so long as people remain ignorant about what accessibility really means (and not just for websites). Most people I’ve encountered come around when they are shown what it all really means - how it’s not that hard to make a website accessible, but it’s very very hard for some people to use one which is not.

  25. March 24, 2006 by Christian

    Sensationalism. On top of that, a pride inducing gesture of good will. The same as saying, “Just look at my level of compassion.” Here’s an accessibility quandary for you: a brick-and-motar store like Target folds it’s online store. Should everyone sue Target? It’s not beyond reason if court costs exceed projected online revinue. It’s like saying if you can’t satisfy everyone with your products, services, or store appearance, don’t go into business. Is braille legally enforced on retailers for their physical price and description tags in the brick-and-mortar stores? No. I guess the NFB should go after almost every retailer in the country for that.

    I thought the goal of a democratic society was to be impartial and indiscriminate. Not providing special provisions for certain people is not discrimination, it’s just the opposite. This isn’t to say that Target couldn’t make nominal changes for the better, it’s just that the democratic process cannot enforce socialism. Once it does, it’s no longer democracy.

    I would like to see Target make accessibility changes to their site, but legal action just sets the stage for all manner of preposterous discrimination claims.

  26. Making Web sites accessible isn’t about making special provision for users who have disabilities. It’s about ceasing to make special provision for users who do not. What drove the trend of hacking structural HTML for visual design, that has caused the Web to be primarily the province of people who can see? Ecommerce sites. There’s no inherent reason why HTML - data stored in electronic format, that can be output in a variety of ways - should be privileged as a visual medium.

    Thank you, Mr Johansson, for your informative and always thought-provoking blog.

  27. March 24, 2006 by Christian

    “It’s about ceasing to make special provision for users who do not.” Making web sites accessible is about ceasing to make special provisions for users who do not have disabilities? That doesn’t even make any sense.

    Hacking structural HTML? Oh, please. I’ve got news for you: images on websites have been around since HTML 2.0 [http://www.w3.org/MarkUp/html-spec/html-spec_toc.html], and were incorporated into content and design long before eCommerce [http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1562055321/]. Image maps, the obvious evidence of visual dependance, has also been around just as long. 10 years later and some group hopes to make money off of a company for their design decisions.

  28. March 24, 2006 by Gemma

    Okay, perhaps that was a poorly worded comment. If I may clarify, how about: Designers who have chosen to write content with an eye primarily towards visual presentation, rather than separating content from presentation (and letting HTML do its original job of structuring data), have created a Web that’s artifically tilted in favour of the majority that uses a graphical interface.

  29. March 24, 2006 by John Hansen

    “I think, that is expressing much about society: People with disabilities? That are always the others and better, I do not see then.”

    Actually, what it expresses about society is a lack of understanding of the free market.

    I take your statement somewhat personal. I make an effort to allow as many users as possible to access the sites I create. This includes the color blind, the blind, those who disable css, those who disable cookies, etc.

    But what Target does with their site is none of my business. If they wish to ignore something as trivial as adding alt attributes to their img tags, so be it. They’ll lose the revenue from the screen reader crowd, and possibly those like you and me who sympathize with them.

    The answer to this problem is not a lawsuit. It’s awareness. Roger is doing his part by bringing it to our attention (BTW, thanks Roger, for the interesting post)

    Please don’t mistake our objections to the lawsuit as contempt for the blind. It’s rather out of a respect for private property and the free market.

  30. March 24, 2006 by Christian

    “no inherent reason why HTML […] should be privileged as a visual medium” and “artifically tilted” There is a huge problem with this line of logic. Even written words are inherently visual. That’s what’s separates them from spoken words. There is nothing “artificially tilted” about writing and images being visual. That is what they are! Not only that, but the OS the web browser is likely running on has a Graphical User Interface. Why isn’t the NFB suing Microsoft for not providing OCR capability at the OS level, or at least the browser level? Why can’t the browser maker provide a function that causes the mousepointer to immediately hover over all (tabbed-to) form objects that have the focus? Wouldn’t the economy of scale be better to have a few browser makers provide this, than force all retailers to provide non-graphical form objects?

    Over 7 percent of Americans suffer from red-green color blindness. Does this mean Target should be sued for the predominant use of the color red in pricing, advertising, and store information? Just as the braille-on-everything example, possibilities like this can and will come infinitum.

  31. March 24, 2006 by Martin Smales

    Looks like target.com has 527 markup errors now, 1 up from 526.

    I think it’s about time we launch “phase 2” by doing a high-profile online petition (with Target.com noticing this) by people with disabilities who have problems using the site (grounds for lawsuit).

  32. I make an effort to allow as many users as possible to access the sites I create. This includes the color blind, the blind, those who disable css, those who disable cookies, etc.

    That is a good point for commercial sites too: reach as many people as possible. So inaccessible sites like the bank site mentioned above are not good for commercial success, too.

    BTW: Thanks to those professionals caring about and sharing their knowledge with others. I have learned a lot from them during the last year.

  33. Quotin Alex: ‘OK , I get it. But where do you draw the line?

    Government sites should be required to be accessible, because they are the single source for necessary services.’

    I fully agree with Alex. You can’t for accessibility by law. It is the government sites that allow IE only browsers or provide really poor accessibility that people should go after. If Target is losing money based on their decision in not making a fully accessible site, it is entirely their problem, and other companies which produce more accessible sites should be commended, and maybe the rest (and Target) will follow suit.

  34. March 26, 2006 by forget

    I’m in a complete vegetative state and Target is inaccessible to me. Please force them to change to serve my needs. Actually, the whole web is a problem I find. Get on that please. Thank you.

  35. March 28, 2006 by Sensoria

    I think there are a few subtle points that people are missing in this discussion. One is the fact that the Target site was not operable at all by the individual in question. Nothing to do with Alt attributes on images.

    Secondly, Target was contacted repeatedly over a period of nine months, if I recall correctly, and still did nothing to accomodate said user.

    Ignorance is one thing, willful ignorance something else altogether. I think the fact that Target was able to, within 24 hours, make the one major change affecting accessibility, speaks volumes about their willful ignorance.

    Third, I don’t believe the lawsuit was filed to make boatloads of cash. It was filed to affect change and to begin to establish legal precedent upon which to base (or not) further cases in the future.

    In response to some of the posts regarding who this may affect, I think that one of the determining factors could be whether or not making the accessibility changes poses undue financial burden to the defendant.

    In many cases, I think it could be proven that impementing accessibility changes to an existing site would not pose such a burden. And if it did, then perhaps this would force everyone to take a closer look at the providers of the CMS tools used and exactly why it is that they aren’t building in the basic accessibility features that they (arguably) should be.

  36. Dear 456 Berea St,

    I notice that this page validates. Thank you.

    I realize that this post is a bit late. However, I am in the process of doing some research this morning and came across the very posts you mentioned above (and more). Needless to say, my veins were popping caused by an increase heart rate.

    After I cooled down a bit, I realized that the targeted web site by a disabled person has very little to do with being blind or sueing.

    It has everything to do with the people with whom we share this planet.

    (1) Less than 1% of the 10 billion web pages on the W.W.W. validate (are valid web pages).

    This ratio reflects the comments, the type of world in which we live, does it not?

    (2) I’m not disabled (well, I think not), however, the targeted website was INACCESSIBLE to me, as well.

    If you viewed the targeted website with FireFox, the js dropdown menu dropped down behind the FLASH. This made over 75% of the navigation links INACCESSIBLE.

    Yes. I could have switched to MSIE and voila. Yes. I have a day or two of scripting (since 1993). Yes. I’m not “grandma” who would have become totally frustrated , turn the computer off, hop in the car, and drive to the nearest targeted retail outlet to make a purchase. That is, I myself knew the work-around to ACCESS their touted wares and goodies for sale.

    I DID email the targeted website’s webmaster and DID receive a response. This was a few days before Christmas. The targeted website “fixed” the navigation issue by January 8, 2006.

    Yes. The targeted website looks “nice”, however, I would assess that we all know that the REAL web page lies underneath.

    Did anyone of these experts making these comments check the targeted website’s source code? WHOA~!!!

    Did anyone of these experts making these comments write the targeted website and solicit them to provide scripting that follows web standards and validates? ( Quite simple to do, by the way.)

    This whole targeted issue shows us that even those who ‘think’ that they can see are blind-disabled themselves.

  37. It should be obvius for any company, that valid code is good “costumer service” - just like making it easy for your costumers to buy, buy, buy, stay, stay, stay and feel comfortable in their store. And god knows money is spend on that account?!

    But off course no private company should be hold liable for not making valid code. How could you legislate on that? What about private sites? Small businesses? etc. etc.

    BUT - I do think, that public service sites, government sites etc. SHOULD be committed, and maybe forced by law, to produce valid code for the benefit of all groups of society.

    Just my thoughts.

  38. April 6, 2006 by Alex

    I know this thread is stale, but I just found something that is germane.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/ custom/2006/03/31/CU2006033101136.html

    (might not last, but it’s a WaPo article on data from MediaMetrix with the top50 visited web sites.)

    Target is #18, with 19.5MM unique visitors/month, up from 15.6MM a year ago (26% increase)

    So let’s do some math.

    Say the Target website has a 1% sales conversion rate (it’s probably higher), an average sale amount of $30 (it’s probably higher), and let’s say the percentage of visually impaired web users is 0.5% (I have no idea on this one)..

    19.5MM * 1% * $30 * 0.5% = $29,500.

    So if my numbers are roughly or compensatorily accurate, Target loses $30k/month, $360k/year, by not fixing their site to accomodate the visually impaired.

    Not as much as I would have guessed, but it’s clearly several times what it would cost to fix. And I strongly suspect my estimates are low.

    FWIW, changing to 2% conversion and $50 avg sale yields $97,500/month, $1.2MM/year.

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