July 25, 2007, 12:00 AM

Target.com accessibility lawsuit approaches key hearing date

A federal court judge will hold a key hearing next Tuesday on whether the National Federation of the Blind has provided enough evidence to prove that Target.com violates the Americans With Disabilities Act.

A federal court judge will hold a key hearing next Tuesday on the National Federation of the Blind’s lawsuit against Target.com.

On July 31 Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California will hear testimony on whether the federation has provided enough evidence to prove that Target.com violates the Americans With Disabilities Act and if the litigation can continue as a class-action suit. The judge will also hear arguments on the federation’s claim that Target.com is inaccessible to the blind and in violation of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act and the California Disabled Persons Act.

The federation argues that the Americans With Disabilities Act applies to Target.com because shoppers, including blind shoppers, use the site to locate a store, purchase merchandise that can be ordered online, but picked up in a store and to download coupons that can be redeemed offline. “The Americans with Disabilities Act is a key component of the case,” says Daniel F. Goldstein, an attorney with Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP, the Baltimore law firm representing the National Federation of the Blind. “Retailers should see this complaint as an ‘eat your spinach’ lawsuit.’ They should wake up to the fact that blind shoppers want to shop online and represent a significant new business opportunity.”

The federation has filed 34 affidavits from blind shoppers who say they have difficulty shopping Target.com. The federation complaint alleges that Target.com lacks compliant alt-text, an invisible code embedded beneath graphic images that allows screen readers to detect and vocalize a description of the image to a blind computer user. The federation’s suit also alleges that Target.com has inaccessible image maps and other graphical features that prevent blind users from navigating and making use of all of the functions on the web site. Because the site requires the use of a mouse to complete a transaction, blind Target customers also are unable to make purchases on Target.com independently, the federation says.

Target isn’t talking about the suit to the press, but the retailer in court said it believes it is in compliance with all applicable laws. Web site design and accessibility consultants, including director of user experience Kathleen Wahlbin at Mindshare Interactive Campaigns LLC, a design and e-commerce consulting firm, also say that Target is working to make its site more accessible. Target has made it easier for blind shoppers to complete a transaction using their keyboard and to use screen reading technology, Wahlbin says.

The hearing and the outcome of the federation’s case also will be closely watched by all web retailers, she says. “Everyone should be watching this case because it will set a precedent no matter what happens,” she says. Target is No. 19 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

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