Target settles lawsuit with advocates for blind

Retailer to make Web site more accessible, pay $6 million

August 28, 2008|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,andrea.walker@baltsun.com

Target Corp. will revamp its Web site to make it more accessible for the blind and pay $6 million in damages to plaintiffs who joined a class action lawsuit against the retailer, under a settlement announced yesterday with the National Federation of the Blind.

The $6 million will be placed in an interest-bearing account so that plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed in California two years ago, can make claims. Most plaintiffs will get about $3,500, an NFB spokesman said.

Under the settlement, the Baltimore-based NFB will test the Web site for three years and certify it once it is completely upgraded. The lawsuit was filed after earlier negotiations between the two sides broke down.

Many blind people use screen-reading software that vocalizes information on a computer, but Web sites must be made accessible for the technology. The lawsuit complained that Target.com was not accessible.

"The NFB is very hopeful that this will be sort of a wake-up call to companies to pay attention to the issue of accessibility and that it is in their best interest to make their Web sites accessible to the blind," said Chris Danielsen, an NFB spokesman.

Target did not admit wrongdoing under the settlement. The retailer said it has improved the Web site since the lawsuit was filed.

"We believe [the Web site] is accessible and compliant with all applicable laws, but that there are improvements that could be made," said Lena Michaud, a Target spokesman.

"We want everyone to have a very simple, pleasant and convenient shopping experience on Target.com, whether using assistant technology or not," Michaud said.

Michaud said some of the improvements will include coding the site so that images have verbal explanations and ensuring that consumers can use the Web site with a keyboard rather than a mouse.

The NFB has called the Internet a critical part of everyday life that should be fully accessible to the country's 1.3 million legally blind residents.

It has brought national attention to the issue by coaxing - and occasionally suing - companies to make their sites more screen-reader-friendly.

Danielsen said that many major retail Web sites are accessible to the blind, but there are many that still need to make changes.

He said that the NFB wants to work out agreements with retailers rather than taking legal action.

"We prefer to help companies do this," Danielsen said.

Bruce Sexton Jr., an original plaintiff in the lawsuit, said he first went to the Target Web site to buy towels for his dorm room at the University of California at Berkeley. When he typed in his request using the software, he said, the vocals came back garbled because the Web site wasn't programmed correctly.

Sexton will get $20,000 under the settlement. He said he will put the money toward starting a nonprofit agency, California Center for the Blind.

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