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Target sighted – a hit but not quite a bullseye

By Ian Lloyd | September 14th, 2006 | Filed in Accessibility, General, Legal

The accessibility case against Target.com moves on to a new stage just when Target had really hoped it would actually be dropped. Bad news for the company, perhaps, but is it all good news for web accessibility advocates as some have read it to be?

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In the accessibility world, a lot of us curmudgeons bemoan that fact that despite the various different pieces of legislation and the guidelines around web accessibility, there are very few examples of any company or organisation ever really being punished for not complying. Sure, there was the Sydney Olympics case and there was the … uh. Um. You get my point – you could cut off a few fingers on one of my hands and I’d still have enough left to count all the cases that have resulted in any kind of prosecution. We have been saying for years that if you mess up on accessibility you could be sued, but the longer it doesn’t happen, the more people will think we’re just ‘crying wolf’.

I certainly don’t want companies to be unfairly vicitimised or for individuals in these companies to be picked out for criticism just to prove a point, but likewise the legislation is there for a reason. One company has just found that, in the US at least, the legislation may yet have an effect – in California, the Target.com case has entered a new stage. In this case, the plaintiff is ‘all blind Americans’ – it’s a class action with Bruce Sexton, a college student, the NFB (National Federation of the Blind) and NFB California as named plaintiffs – and the case has resurfaced because Target’s request for the case to be thrown out has been rejected.

The NFB’s press release suggests a victory for the plaintiffs, but it’s not a decisive victory:

Explaining the ramification of the ruling, Mazen M. Basrawi, Equal Justice Works Fellow at Disability Rights Advocates, noted that: “the court clarified that the law requires that any place of public accommodation is required to ensure that it does not discriminate when it uses the internet as a means to enhance the services it offers at a physical location.”

It doesn’t say “the ADA must include web sites” but rather (paraphrasing here) “it should not exclude outlets other than the physical premises”. This is a bit more woolly than the press release might have you believe.

So, the case is not over yet. Target may not have had it thrown out as they had wanted, but they have not yet lost the battle overall. In fact, Joe Clark has suggested that they may yet even win the case. Regardless of which way the case ultimately goes, there is a precedent of sorts here, as Jared Smith states on WebAim:

While this is not a final ruling on the suit, but only a ruling on the motion to dismiss the case, it does set a strong precedence that online stores are covered by civil rights laws.

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#1 On September 14th, 2006 1:57 pm