Web Site Owners Should Consider Accessibility In Site Design

Jeremy Brown
June 5, 2008 — 815 views  

Have you considered how accessible your site is to users with disabilities? Many sites include functionality features such as the feature incorporated in Jackson Walker’s Web site which permits users to make the text on the site larger. Reaching as many potential consumers of your goods or services is a goal for all site owners. 

As you think about accessibility, site owners may also want to be aware of a current case making its way through the courts. In National Federation of the Blind v. Target Corp., plaintiffs allege that Target is denying blind users access to Target.com by not employing technology that would allow blind individuals to use the Web site. The federal district court recently ruled that Target’s failure to make its Web site accessible to blind individuals could constitute a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The plaintiffs in Target argue that the inability to use certain features on the Target.com Web site prevents them from enjoying and using the actual Target stores. The suit focuses on Web site features such as the store locator, which helps online users find a store close to the user’s location; the online pharmacy, which allows users to order prescriptions that can then be picked up at a Target store; and discount coupons offered on the Web site that can then be redeemed at a Target store. Plaintiffs argue that because they cannot access and use these web-based features, they are not able to access and use the actual Target stores in the same manner as individuals with normal vision. The court agreed that this could constitute an ADA violation. Specifically, the court ruled that the plaintiffs had a valid ADA claim to the extent that they allege that the inaccessibility of Target.com impedes the full and equal enjoyment of goods and services offered in actual Target stores. 

What does this mean for your company?
  • The court’s ruling does not extend to all Web sites. Generally, the Americans with Disabilities Act only applies to companies that operate “a place of public accommodation.” The Target plaintiffs allege that the inaccessibility of Target.com denies blind individuals the ability to enjoy the services of Target’s actual brick-and-mortar stores – places of public accommodation. Accordingly, this ruling only applies to companies operating a Web site that is used in conjunction with a physical store. The ruling does not apply to goods or services offered on a company’s Web site that do not affect the use and enjoyment of the physical store.
  • Companies operating a place of public accommodation should think about making their Web site accessible to the blind. In light of this recent ruling, companies operating a Web site that acts as a gateway to their physical store should consider making their Web site accessible to blind individuals. Current guidelines for designing an accessible internet site rely heavily on “alternative text.” Alternative text is invisible code embedded beneath graphics. A blind user can use screen reader software which vocalizes the alternative text and describes the content of the webpage. By using this screen reader software, a blind individual can navigate a site with a keyboard instead of a mouse. Companies operating both a retail store (or any place of public accommodation) and an associated Web site should consider implementing this and other technology so as to ensure ADA compliance. Companies that wish to make their Web sites accessible to the vision impaired can look to the voluntary guidelines offered by The World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative. Available at http://www.w3.org/WAI/.
  • The court’s ruling does not require companies to take immediate action but does put companies on notice of possible ADA violations. The court’s ruling is quite narrow. The court only ruled that Target may have violated the ADA. At this early stage of the case, the facts are not sufficiently developed to know if Target actually did violate the ADA. As a result, companies are not required to take any immediate action in light of this ruling. The ruling does, however, put companies on notice that they may violate the ADA if their Web site is not sufficiently accessible to blind individuals. In other words, the ruling is a shot across the bow. Prudent companies should, therefore, consider whether this ruling applies to them and if so, whether their site is accessible to blind individuals.

If you have any questions about this e-Alert, please contact Jeremy Brown at [email protected] or 214.953.5960 or Scott McElhaney at [email protected] or 214.953.6147.

Jeremy Brown

Jackson Walker L.L.P.