Target Lawsuit Spotlights Web Access for the Blind

A U.S. court ruling on Web site accessibility for the blind could force companies to step up their adoption of technology for those with special needs.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that Web sites such as Target.com, the U.S. retail giant, are required by California law to be accessible, extending a disabilities provision to the Internet.

The court further certified a lawsuit against Target Corp. by the National Federation of the Blind as a class action on behalf of blind Internet users throughout the U.S.

"This is a tremendous step forward for blind people throughout the country who for too long have been denied equal access to the Internet economy," the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) said in a statement. "All e-commerce businesses should take note of this decision and immediately take steps to open their doors to the blind."

The NFB's suit alleges that Target failed to make its Web site accessible to the blind, and then refused to do so when confronted with the issue, violating the Americans With Disabilities Act and two California civil rights statutes: the California UNRUH Civil Rights Act and the California Disabled Persons Act.

Many people with little or no vision can access the Internet using screen readers, which read words out loud from right to left on a page, according to WebAIM, a project by Utah State University and the Center for Persons with Disabilities.

Such users mainly depend on a keyboard rather than a mouse, because of the visual nature of point and click usage, WebAIM says. It suggests nearly a dozen ways to make Web sites easier for the blind to use, including designs that use keyboard-alternatives where a mouse might normally be required, and providing text descriptions under graphics, photographs and other images.

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