Targeting Accessibility

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and Target made accessibility history today when they announced a $6 million class action settlement. The lawsuit originated when the NFB sued Target alleging that is not accessible to people with disabilities using screen-readers. Highlights of the settlement include:

  • Target is not admitting liability that is in any way inaccessible or has violated the Americans with Disability Act.
  • Target will pay up to a total of $6 million in damages to qualified settlement class members.
  • Target will ensure that the website meets the Target Assistive Technology Guidelines and that blind guests using screen-reader software may acquire the same information and engage in the same transactions as are available to sighted guests with substantially equivalent ease of use.
  • Target expects to implement these changes by February 2009.

Reading the settlement, I get the clear sense that the intent is to truly break down the barriers and make sure that real people with disabilities can actually use the site. The monitoring and training clauses include:

  • Quarterly Testing – NFB will use an automated monitoring tool, Worldspace, on every quarter.
  • Annual User Testing – NFB will conduct usability testing on every year with 5 to 15 blind people.
  • Annual Tech Review – An accessibility expert, Jim Thatcher, will review the site annually, assessing up to 40 pages on the site at his discretion, including but not limited to: home page, browse page of major category, search results, product detail, add to cart, guest sign in, guest registration, address book, payment methods, billing address, place order and thank you page.
  • Training – NFB will provide periodic one-day accessibility training sessions for Target employees responsible for coding the website.

Now that is the smartest, most effective settlement I’ve ever laid eyes on. Some of my colleagues are concerned that Target isn’t using the US Federal 508 requirement or the W3C WCAG. My opinion? The most important statement in this settlement is this:

blind guests using screen-reader software may acquire the same information and engage in the same transactions as are available to sighted guests with substantially equivalent ease of use

That is the point of 508 and WCAG. These guidelines are just tools that help us break down the barriers. With the NFB, real user testing and Jim Thatcher as the accessibility consultant, I have no doubt that will become a model of accessibility best practice.

And for everyone who has already been making the web accessible and teaching these best practices to others…I salute you with a slightly modified version of the Saint Crispin’s day speech from Henry the V

We few, we happy few, we band of geeks;
For those to-day that shed their blood with me
Shall be my brother in accessibility;
This day shall gentle your condition:
And developers blind to standards
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their accomplishments cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Accessibility Day


  1. I think you have gotten maybe the most important quote from the settlement, but I just don’t think it’s as celebration-worthy.

    blind guests using screen-reader software

    Not blind people using Braille machines, not low-vision people using screen magnifiers, not any other disabled people. Just blind people, just using screen-readers. Any other accessibility improvements are thus a side-effect, not an intention. I’m happy, of course, that they’re going to do even that much, but it is in NO way an unequivocal victory for web accessibility.

    And I know this is faster, but professionally a clear-cut court decision would’ve been preferable. This whole is-it-or-isn’t-it-ADA thing has been dragging on for too damn long already.

  2. Elaine: as far as I know, a large number of people with low-vision disabilities qualify as legally blind. Your point definitely has merit, but the benefits from the mandatory training and periodic inspection should (assuming they fix things correctly) extend to those using other assistive technologies other than screen readers.

    Also, I can’t imagine Jim would let them slide by without at least informing them of issues for non-blind users, even if legally he couldn’t give them a failing grade (see – his “What not to do” on web accessibility/usability). If Target opened themselves up for a similar lawsuit after settling this one, it would make them look VERY bad in all sorts of ways. People would know to cite this ruling, and it would very much appear that Target knowingly and willfully denied access to a set of users.

  3. Thanks Glenda for providing a clear, thoughful and accurate summary of the NFB/Target settlement. It has been really depressing for me to see the number of negative, uninformed and petty posts on accessibility lists and blog comments relating to the settlement.

    NFB argues for blind access using “screen access software”. That is their cause. Of course it is their cause! Elaine, screen readers can drive text-to-speech or Braille devices. “Screen access software” includes Braille.

    The agreement specifies that Target will comply with their internal guidelines (TOATG) available at the DRA Site, These guidelines are consistent with WCAG Priority 1and Section 508; they include keyboard access and good advice on Ajax.

    People whine, “another set of guidelines.” I helped develop IBM’s accessibility guidelines starting around 1998. They have evolved but are are still available, idea that a corporation wants their own version written in their style with examples from their site is commendable.

    Thanks again, Glenda.

  4. ““Screen access software” includes Braille.”

    That’s good to know. And I’m sure that the guidelines will be beneficial overall. I think it’s a (potential) victory for Target shoppers; I don’t like how it leaves everything else unresolved. (There are some decision-makers who really will only pay attention when the law is clear.)

  5. I guess I’m the kind of girl that sees this glass as half-full. As an accessibility advocate, one of my favorite moments in the NFB vs. Target Lawsuit occurred in September 2006.

    Federal judge sustains discrimination claims against Target; precedent establishes that retailers must make their websites accessible to the blind under the ADA

    A federal district court judge ruled yesterday that a retailer may be sued if its website is inaccessible to the blind. The ruling was issued in a case brought by the National Federation of the Blind against Target Corp. (Northern District of California Case No. C 06-01802 MHP) The suit charges that Target’s website (Target) is inaccessible to the blind, and therefore violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. (ADA), the California Unruh Civil Rights Act, and the California Disabled Persons Act. Target asked the court to dismiss the action by arguing that no law requires Target to make its website accessible. The Court denied Target’s motion to dismiss and held that the federal and state civil rights laws do apply to a website such as

    source – NFB Press Release – Legal Precedent Set for Web Accessibility.

    You’d have to have your head in the sand not to realize the implications of this news. Inaccessible web sites are clearly a form of discrimination. Don’t make yourself a target for the next accessibility lawsuit.

  6. Proof that the ADA needs a major overhaul, and this time stronger lobbying support from the civil rights groups.

Comments are closed.