Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Target will make Web site accessible

From The San Francisco Chronicle:

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Target retail chain will make its Web site accessible to the blind and pay $6 million to visually impaired Californians who have tried unsuccessfully to use the site, under a settlement announced August 27.

The nationwide settlement, filed with a federal judge in San Francisco, is intended as a model for the retail industry, said a lawyer for the National Federation of the Blind, which sued Target in 2006.

"We hope that what Target does can be used as an example for other retailers," said attorney Julia Pinover of Disability Rights Advocates. "It can demystify how to become accessible."

The company must now equip its Web site, http://www.target.com/, with an embedded code that can be read by software to provide a vocal description of the page, and links that
allow a blind person to navigate the screen with a keyboard instead of a mouse.

The improvements are supposed to be completed early next year and will be
monitored by the National Federation of the Blind for three years.

Steve Eastman, president of the Web site, said the company was pleased to have reached the settlement and would work with the federation on further refinements. "Target is committed to serving all our guests," he said in a statement.

Target has 230 stores in California and more than 1,600 nationwide. In its lawsuit, the federation accused the company of violating federal and state laws that entitle the disabled to equal access to business and government services.

In a key ruling, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel refused to dismiss the suit in September 2006. Rejecting Target's argument that the discrimination laws prohibit only physical barriers to a company's stores or products, she said the American With Disabilities Act requires removal of all barriers to "a disabled person's 'full enjoyment' of goods or services," quoting from the 1990 law.

The Aug. 27 settlement, subject to Patel's approval, incudes $6 million for legally blind Californians who have tried to access target.com since February 2003, using their own screen-reader software, and have failed because of the site's limitations.

Claimants will be entitled to $3,500 each, or $7,000 if they have tried more than once. Claims must be filed under penalty of perjury and will be reviewed by an administrator. Specifics on how people can apply will be announced after the settlement is made final.

Pinover said she expects thousands of claims to be filed. She said most commercial Web sites are only partly accessible to the blind, and that retailers who re-equip their sites will help themselves as well as their customers.

"For people who can't drive to a mall, it's particularly important to be able to buy things online," she said.