August 28, 2008, 12:00 AM

Target.com supports site design for blind people under legal settlement

After two years of litigation, the National Federation of the Blind has settled its class action suit with Target Corp. over access to Target.com. Target will establish a $6 million settlement fund and agree to three years of accessibility testing.

Paul Demery

Managing Editor, B2B E-commerce

Topics: Marc Maurer

After two years of litigation, the National Federation of the Blind has settled its class action suit with Target Corp. over access to Target.com.

Since 2006, the National Federation of the Blind had pursued charges that Target had “failed and refused” to make its web site accessible to the blind and thus violated the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as two California civil rights statutes: the California Unruh Civil Rights Act and the California Disabled Persons Act.

But in a settlement reached on Aug. 27 between Target, No. 19 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, and the federation, Target will establish a $6 million settlement fund from which litigants in the California lawsuit can make claims. The National Federation of the Blind will also certify Target.com through a non-visual accessibility web certification program once planned improvements are completed in early 2009. Target and the federation also have agreed to a three-year relationship during which the National Federation of the Blind will perform accessibility testing of Target.com.

In its original complaint, the National Federation of the Blind alleged that Target.com lacked compliant alt-text, an invisible code embedded beneath graphic images that enables screen readers to detect and vocalize a description of the image to a blind computer user. The federation’s suit also alleged that Target.com had inaccessible image maps and other graphical features that prevented blind users from navigating and making use of all of the functions on the web site. Because the site required the use of a mouse to complete a transaction, blind Target customers were unable to make purchases on Target.com independently, the federation contended.

Under the settlement, the National Federation of the Blind will use an automated monitoring tool to test Target.com each quarter. The settlement also spells out the specific technology, web site design elements and other criteria Target will use to make its e-commerce site more accessible. On an annual basis the federation will also report to Target the results of user testing by up to 15 blind persons with varying Internet skill levels. Each of the users will attempt to complete at least five different tasks using different navigational paths.

“Access to web sites is critical to the full and equal participation of blind people in all aspects of modern life,” says National Federation of the Blind president Marc Maurer. “Other businesses providing goods and services over the Internet will follow Target’s example and take affirmative steps to provide full access to their web sites by blind consumers.”

Target, which has never talked openly about the lawsuit, maintains that it has been taking steps on an ongoing basis to make Target.com accessible to the blind. “We have made significant enhancements in order to provide an accessible shopping experience,” says Target.com president Steve Eastman. “We are pleased to have reached an agreement with the National Federation of the Blind regarding the accessibility of Target.com for individuals who use assistive technologies and will work with the NFB on further refinements to our web site.”

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