Many businesses… are notorious for putting fiscal concerns ahead of matters of compassion and social responsibility…
Last week all hell broke loose. For web accessibility there was a triumph of sorts. And in the world of web-is-money-first a small blow that is feared to mushroom into a costly problem. Some Internet merchants may feel they have better things to do than to acknowledge and cater to the needs of a “small” user group like the disabled — specifically the blind in the Target case (to learn more, links are provided later in this entry). Some people feel this lawsuit is frivolous and that private businesses should be left to decide on their own whether or not they accommodate these small user groups. Others, meanwhile, think the lawsuit is a good move and quite necessary.
Okay, I’m pretty sure what I’ve written so far is fact. Now I will offer my opinion. My take of the situation. My answer to the question of whether or not the suit is frivolous. I didn’t even run this article past my teammates (so watch for typoz), though I do hope they’ll respond here with their opinions. Just as I hope you will, too, dear reader.
So, is it Frivolous?
The short answer: Hell No! (Can I put double
strong tags around that?) Many businesses, as I wrote in response to a thread on the Web Standards Group (WSG) mailing list where the issue ended up being hotly debated last week, are notorious for putting fiscal concerns ahead of matters of compassion and social responsibility, and that often they act only when forced to — or when their lawyers shake their heads after calculating an unfavorable risk assessment. The “force” can come from two sources: the public in the form of bad press or via consumer boycott; or as a result of the judicial system acting on behalf of government, organizations, or individuals.
As it concerns web accessibility, I feel that any private or publicly-held business that provides content on the web should be mandated to conform to published standards by law. And if they don’t, within a reasonable time frame after identifying their web site’s weaknesses, then they should be held accountable and required to pay significant penalties. Moreover, businesses should be proactive in identifying their sites’ flaws and correcting them. Hard line stand? Yes. Necessary? Again, yes!
As a business owner with a web enterprise myself, I might be put off or up in arms by my last remark, but being that I know about web accessibility, I realize it’s not that big of a deal to conform. In my opinion an accessible web site will arguably cost only slightly more — for the extra attention to detail and alternatives where required — but it’s not a huge sum.
Also, think of this: Target, as a prime example, has many outlets throughout the United States. All of these outlets conform to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements for physical locations of commerce. You know, stuff like ramps, wider doors, restroom accommodations, and parking spots. As you can image, all this physical conformity must have cost and arm and a leg. Yet, Target has one web site. Would it cost millions, hundreds, or even tens of thousands to make it accessible? Very unlikely. Could it add $10,000 to the price of a new site of that scope? Sure, maybe? But you see my point, right? It’s likely millions were spent on nationwide physical conformance, yet spending a fraction of that to make their site accessible to their disabled visitors was too much trouble. Even after they were made aware of the problem, the solutions handed to them, and given a generous amount of time to make good, they couldn’t be bothered. It’s not, after all, like this lawsuit suddenly came from the sky like a bolt of lightning.
Making a business site, or any site, accessible makes good sense. We’ve made a business case for web accessibility before. I doubt the management at Target is stupid, so why didn’t they make their site accessible to blind users when asked? Why waste everyone’s time and money, and embarrass themselves in the process? Why put off the inevitable? I hypothesize that the answer is as simple as that they weren’t made to, and they could save a few thousand dollars by not worrying about it until they absolutely had to.
Businesses should demonstrate a little compassion to those in need. I’m not disabled, but I had a family member who was severely so, and to her the web was a miracle. Going out was a hassle. Too much equipment, too much time and bother. But on the Internet, with a web browser and a stick in her mouth, she was free to roam and giddy with delight. In my opinion businesses really shouldn’t have to be told to make this possible for her or any less fortunate visitor. This is something they should have the foresight and compassion to do all by themselves.
Get More Information
Want to learn more about this class-action lawsuit? To get the nuts and bolts these resources should help.
- Web Standards Group: Will Target Get Schooled?
- Accessify.com: Court Approves Target Class-Action?
- JoeDolson.com: More news on the Target Accessibility Lawsuit
- Michelle Malkin: Blind Shoppers get Green Light to Sue Target Over Website
(Michelle Malkin’s article and its comments are what fired up WSG mailing list members.)
- PCWorld.com: Target Lawsuit Spotlights Web Access for the Blind
- ARSTechnica.com: Lawsuit Over Website Accessibility for the Blind Becomes Class-Action
- ComputerWorld.com: Update: Target Ruling may Force Retailers to Adjust Web Sites
- National Federation for the Blind: Court Ruling Says California Disabled Rights Law Applies to the Web
- 901am: Court rules against Target on website accessibility lawsuit
- 456 Berera St: Update on the Target accessibility lawsuit
So, is the Target lawsuit frivolous? Again, I say hell no, but what’s your opinion?