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Target: Not Blind, Just Dumb

A blind UC Berkeley student is suing Target Corp. for civil rights violations: The retailer's Web site, according to the complaint, is almost completely inaccessible to sight-impaired users. From Wednesday's San Francisco Chronicle article:
A blind UC Berkeley student is suing Target Corp. for civil rights violations: The retailer's Web site, according to the complaint, is almost completely inaccessible to sight-impaired users. From Wednesday's San Francisco Chronicle article:

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Alameda County Superior Court, said the upscale discounter's on-line business, Target.com, denies blind Californians equal access to goods and services available to those who can see.

"Target thus excludes the blind from full and equal participation in the growing Internet economy that is increasingly a fundamental part of daily life," said the suit, which seeks to be certified as a class action and alleges violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and various state statutes.
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Advocates for the blind said the lawsuit is a shot across the bow for retailers, newspapers and others who have Web sites the blind cannot use. They chose Target because of its popularity and because of a large number of complaints by blind patrons.

The only surprise here is the fact that Target didn't get nailed a lot sooner than it did. This is a topic almost as old as the Web itself: When I did a quick TechWeb search, I found a major feature on Web accessibility dated November, 1998, along with a steady stream of related news, reviews, product announcements, and how-to articles on the subject during the seven-plus years that followed. In fact, the last chance to hop this clue-train might have been the August, 2004 settlement between two major online travel companies and the New York State attorney general, in which the companies agreed to bring their sites into compliance with Web accessibility standards. If you design, build, or manage a retail Web site, this no longer qualifies as "news" -- it's common sense.

Or, perhaps, not so common: According to the Chronicle story, the plaintiffs in the case had been talking to Target execs since May, 2005, but finally decided to sue when the company "declined to modify its Web site."

What, exactly, did Target "decline to modify?" One of the biggest problems with Target.com is its complete lack of "alt" tags: absurdly simple snippets of plain text that allow screen-reader software to "translate" images for sight-impaired visitors. Rocket science? Not a chance -- these guys are stumped getting downhill on a Big Wheel.