National Federation of the Blind praises new online accessibility
More than two years after filing a lawsuit against Target Corporation over Web site access, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the retailer have reached a settlement agreement. The NFB contended that Target’s online shopping Web site was inaccessible to blind people who use a screen reader. The settlement makes changes to the Web site and sets aside $6 million for plaintiffs to share. Bruce Sexton, Jr., a plaintiff in the case from the beginning, said, “This settlement marks a new chapter in making Web sites accessible to the blind. I commend Target.com for committing to being a leader in online accessibility.”
“First and foremost, Target. com is committed to serving all our guests,” said Steve Eastman of Target.com.
Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “Access to Web sites is critical to the full and equal participation of blind people in all aspects of modern life. The NFB is pleased to have reached a settlement with Target.com that is good for all visually impaired consumers and we recognize that Target. com has already taken action to make certain that its Web site is accessible to everyone. We look forward to working with Target.com in the coming months to help make additional improvements that will enhance the experience of blind visitors to the Web site. It is our sincere hope that other businesses providing goods and services over the Internet will follow Target.com’s example and take affirmative steps to provide full access to their Web sites by consumers.”
“Target is pleased to have resolved this matter with the NFB. Target is committed to providing a simple and convenient online shopping experience for all our guests, and we are confident our Target.com Web site is fully accessible and complies with all applicable laws. As our online business has evolved, we have made significant enhancements to improve the experience for guests who require assistive technology. We will continue to make appropriate adjustments to our Web site as our business grows and new technologies become available, and we look forward to continuing the dialogue with the NFB,” said Julie Swiler of Target Communications.
Target was made aware of website access problems in May 2005. The lawsuit was filed in the Superior Court of California in February 2006 after months of unsuccessful negotiation. The case was then moved to United States District Court for the North District of California.
The lawsuit came to an end with a mutual agreement including a financial settlement and commitment to work cooperatively to improve access to the Target Web site for blind screen reader users.
James Thatcher evaluated the Target Web site and said, “When I first evaluated Target.com it was as bad an experience for a screen reader user as any I have seen. It was impossible, not just difficult, but impossible, to complete a purchase using only the keyboard. And because pages were (and are) heavily images (and image maps) – most without alt-text, the listening experience was a nightmare.“ Because of the content management system, the use of image maps, and lack of alt-text there were dozens of links like these: 6816961?%5Fencoding= UTF8&node=…
Thatcher said, “Will it be easy to use when all the changes are made. Easy, probably not! But it will be possible. Any commercial page with hundreds of promotions and hundreds of links is a challenge for screen reader users. When those shoppers explore the site and develop their own strategy for shopping they will be able to use Target.com.”
One type of screen reader is Job Access With Speech (JAWS). The JAWS program reads whatever comes up on the computer screen. The keyboard is used rather then the mouse to help JAWS users navigate and read what may be on a Web site. If there are coding problems with the Web site, JAWS may read only parts of an on-line shopping network.
Thatcher said, “As far as version dependence goes, to expect ease of use independent of version is unreasonable. New versions of screen access software are created for good reasons, they implement significant improvements in access. There was a particularly major change in the transition from JAWS 7 to JAWS 8. I think it is fair to say that the increased access to Target will be independent of upgrade version of JAWS from Version 8 on. On the other hand most of the changes that have occurred and that are planned also effect access by earlier versions.“
The Target/NFB agreement contains more than two dozen points. One key point is that by February 2009, Target shall make the necessary changes to Target.com in order to achieve NFB non-visual accessibility certification.
The settlement also states that Target shall ensure that the Target.com Web site meets the Target Online Assistive Technology Guidelines. 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.”
Other points in the settlement include commitments to ongoing site testing and monitoring, notice if there are major changes to the site, payment from Target to the NFB for site monitoring and a process for reporting of future Web site complaints.