Executives of bricks and mortar stores take note. In fact, anyone conducting online commerce should review Judge Marilyn Hall Patel’s opinion in the National Federation of the Blind v. Target Corp.
This is the first ruling to suggest that a retailer may be sued if its website is inaccessible to the blind. Until this ruling, commercial websites were not considered places of accommodation and were assumed to not fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Judge Patel denied a motion to dismiss the complaint. Dismissal was the outcome of the earlier Access Now vs. Southwest Airlines complaint, where the U.S. District Court ruled that “the plain and unambiguous language of the statute and relevant regulations does not include Internet websites among the definitions of `places of public accommodation´.”
Instead, Judge Patel held the web site to be a service of the stores, which are public accommodations. She proceeded to establish plaintiff classes enabling the case to become a class action. The court ruled that this exposure to ADA requirements was limited to the parts of the website which make the physical stores more useful to customers. Products or services independent of the store were excluded from the case.
“This is a tremendous step forward for blind people throughout the country who for too long have been denied equal access to the Internet economy,” said Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind. “All e-commerce businesses should take note of this decision and immediately take steps to open their doors to the blind.”
There are many good reasons to make websites accessible. However, these should not become the basis for the state to set standards for expression. While government can regulate its own agencies’ conduct, it is concerning that some would place the state in a regulatory role over files legally placed on private equipment.
While technologies such as Flash, web video, podcasts and virtual worlds may be made more accessible to disabled users today, a broad prohibition against them in commerce would have discouraged their development.
What you can do:
- Improve your site anyway. It’s the right thing to do
- Keep on top of this story
- Advocate both for accessibility and the freedom to choose the web technologies that best fit the requirements of your communications.
Article update: Target Settles ADA Case with National Federation of the Blind.
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