Web Sites and the ADA

As reported by Law.com last week Target Corp. settled a federal class action lawsuit brought by The National Federation of the Blind, who claimed that Target’s website was inaccessible to the blind in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  At issues was Target’s failure to code its website to enable use of keyboards and software that convert websites into speech or Braille.  Target agreed to pay $6 million in damages and recode the site to accomodate those with vision disabilities.  Target was prompted to settle in part by the trial judge’s ruling that the ADA applies to a business’s website, agreeing with the plaintiffs that there is a nexus between physical Target stores and its online presence.  The article reports that other companies such as Amazon.com and RadioShack have agreed to improve their web sites to enable use by visually impaired customers.  (Source:  Evan Hill “Settlement Over Target’s Web Site Marks a Win for ADA Plaintiffs,” The Recorder, 28-Aug-08.)

3 Replies to “Web Sites and the ADA”

  1. Victor Pan

    I was aware of individuals of varying race, gender, ethnicity, religion, nation of origin, age, and sexual orientation being protected classes. However, I was not aware that veterans, housing, color, and individuals with disabilities were also in the same category. I do recognize that the law protects certain classes, though not the whole list at heart, but am indeed guilty of thinking that businesses have a choice on who to sell their merchandise.

    Which makes me wonder, is it legal for businesses to purposely charge individuals/businesses more or less for their product/service? (Price discrimination)

    The true trouble I had was associating Target’s online presence with ADA’s requirement for buildings open to the public be accessible by the disabled.

    From a business perspective, I know that not all businesses are aware of this ruling and many more don’t even maintain their websites, let alone make sure that the visually disabled can decode it. From what it sounds like, only major publicly trading companies will targeted – it doesn’t make sense that smaller businesses would get away for being “unethical for not providing equal opportunities of access”…

    Certainly, this sounds like something that would require law enforcement to create equality and effectiveness. Wouldn’t this require a statue for governing businesses to comply with this ruling?

  2. David Randall Post author

    The ADA requires that buildings open to the public be accessible to those persons who the ADA defines as disabled, such as the blind. The court applied this portion of the ADA to Target’s website, holding there to be a connection between Target’s physical stores and online presence. Websites can be coded to facilitate use of technology that aids the visually impaired. Other sites use this technology but Target did not, making it more difficult for the blind to access the Target site.

    The more fundamental problem is that you don’t recognize that the law protects people within certain classes who’ve been the objects of historical discrimination. Retailers, for instance, cannot discriminate against customers based on, for example their race, ethnicity, or disability (the law defines other protected classes–I’m not trying to be exhaustive). So, to answer your question, corporations do not have the right to choose who to sell their merchandise to. You cannot equate “a guy with looks suspicious” with “everyone who is blind.”

  3. Victor Pan

    Exactly what part of the Americans with Disabilities Act was being argued in debate?

    Based on what I see here, I think it’s somewhat of a stretch… to be sued for not accommodating a particular market of individuals (visually impaired)…

    I mean, don’t corporations have the right to choose who to sell their merchandise to?

    I could easily refuse to sell guns to a guy that I think looks suspicious.

    Unless, I had purposely discriminated against a class of people (say Mexicans) from purchasing firearms. If that was the case, I can somewhat understand.

    But seriously, does it seem like Target was discriminating against the visually impaired? What part of ADA was violated?

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