back to article California court tilts towards mandating web accessibility

California law may require websites to be accessible to disabled internet users, according to a ruling in a case against retail giant Target. Despite recent improvements to the accessibility of Target.com, the case has now been certified as a class action. Target was sued by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and one …

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  1. Mark Nelson
    Alert

    You ID10T PATEL!!!

    If the blind can not use a brick and mortar store is one thing but a website? Now if the plaintiff had stuck to ADA claims there might be a possibility to work things out but now either target will pull the site which is bad for all users or they will outlast you id10ts on appeal.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    That's What I Love About El Reg -Right On Time

    Check out this discussion:

    http://www.webmasterworld.com/accessibility_usability/3467901.htm

  3. Chris C
    Flame

    Stupid laws from stupid people

    Don't get me wrong, I sympathize with disabled people, I really do. But why is it that everything needs to be created for the lowest common denominator (no offense intended)? It may be hard to believe, but websites and physical stores already treat everybody equally. What laws like this want is special, preferential treatment for groups which consider themselves disabled (groups which, by and large, take offense to the word "disabled", but have no problem accepting, strike that, demanding public assistance and government aid because of their disability). A blind person has access to the website in exactly the same way I do. They may not be able to see the website, but the access is equal. Just because they may not be able to see/read the site doesn't mean that it is not equal access.

    NEWSFLASH -- People are not created equal. It's about time that the government and the laws they write realize that. Discrimination is bad no matter what form it takes. But lack of something does not equal discrimination. If I don't have a handicap ramp leading into my office, am I discriminating against anyone? According to the law I am. There is a difference, a huge difference, between discrimination and not giving special accommodation to certain people.

    NEWSFLASH 2 -- There is a reason these people are called disabled. While I sympathize with them, they have to realize that there are certain things they simply cannot do.

    Perhaps blind people should sue Playboy next because (I'm assuming) their pictures don't have detailed captions ("Alternate text" in HTML-speak)?

    Note: I'm from the U.S. Perhaps the disabled in the U.K. and elsewhere are better behaved than those i have seen here.

  4. Tom Silver badge

    Firefox & Opera equal access??

    If this ruling makes those sites that are "Internet Exploder Only" bad, I'm all for it. Not every blind person has a windoze machine. Maybe if you make your web site correspond to W3C standards it won't be ruled as anti-ADA. That might be the proper thing to do. The problem is that many government run sites are IE only, and hopefully these are ruled against.

    Then again, the blind people might demand that they be given a human reader for their computer access (look it could happen with the courts these days!). One never knows.

    I am reminded about a company that had to do special programming for WebTV (now a Microsoft company). They stated that for the number of people who had WebTV (I think it is called something else now), and used their site they could buy each a computer. The WebTV population was that small. A few years ago I interviewed for the company, and wasn't impressed to much. The internet just doesn't scale to a TV too well. With resolution of 640x480 (on a good day, with flicker) and a remote control box for a keyboard it gets blurry very quickly.

    Ought to be an interesting case in any event.

  5. Ole Juul

    This could be good for others too

    The problem is always the use of the damned mouse which is impossible if you are blind. I can see quite well but I still think the mouse is the stupidest thing that ever hit the computer world. If more websites were usable with a text browser, I'd be happy.

  6. Ian Sargent

    An easy way to make money?

    It sounds to me as though a lawyer somewhere has had a brainwave - "Hey, I can make some money out of the disabled . . . . lets start with the blind! After this maybe I can even get the blind community to sue Apple for not having a suitable interface for them on the iPhone and iPod Touch?"

    I agree that many/most web sites should be more aware of those people with sight problems but is this the best way to solve the problem?

  7. Nick Ryan Silver badge
    Stop

    Accessibility...

    Some of the comments here are endemic to the blinkered stupidity that, unfortunately, many website "developers" (broadest possible use of the word "developer") suffer from.

    1) Accessible websites help ALL users (which should be a goal of ALL website designers)

    2) Accessible websites, should greatly improve Search Engine Optimisation (another holy grail of website designers)

    Now, if you're still too dumb to realise that doing the following is bad, you should do all us all a favour and crawl into a cave somewhere and become a hermit:

    * rendering heading/body *text* as images

    * rendering navigation solely as images, with no alt-text or structure to the layout (or alternative navigation)

    * using JavaScript menus that can't fall back to non-JavaScript operation and/or be used properly (even) using a mouse. Many users are now used to navigating with the help of tabs and opening links in new tabs, breaking this with pointlessly badly coded menus just infuriates users

    * using JavaScript to navigate a site - <a> elements are there for a reason - there is never a valid reason to use JavaScript "PostBack" or OnMouseDown events to break normal navigation.

    * using technology such as flash as the navigation - for example, flash is a good ADDITION to a website, it must never be used AS the websute

    * believing that putting the word "accessibility" on a link to a page that lists keyboard shortcuts is "accessibility". Likewise being dumb and putting links to change the font size and/or colour scheme - all decent browsers can do this for your website anyway (ever heard of CSS?)

    * designing pages with no clue as to the STRUCTURE of a document - the idea isn't just to make it look vaguely pretty on a fixed width, screen running one browser. Remove all the images and your document should still be meaningful.

    * mingling layout with content - content in one file, layout in another. Granted, (X)HTML and CSS doesn't always make this easy but the closer you get to it the better all round.

    * Using table elements as layout - they're for tabular data, not for layout. 10 years ago, when browsers are even worse than today, it may have been the only working solution to actually getting a website page to look vaguely like you want it to, however times have changed and CSS is now (mostly) supported in browsers.

    Oddly enough, avoiding the above stupidities (and a few others), tends to make your website more usable all round. Hell, your website may even work on a mobile phone or TV connected system!

  8. Bemi Faison
    Thumb Down

    A poorly understood medium

    Should newspapers be sued because their content isn't printed in braille? Are the internet extensions of printed publications any different?

    Should Target send their book catalog's with an audiobook version? I don't see how their website is any more "public" than a private shopping experience with their book catalog?

    Kudos to Nick for describing some obvious best-practices for web development; and as he said, web developers from the new guard (aka, Web 2.0'ers) do most of them automatically. But looking at the ADA's argument - that Target's website is a place of "public accommodation" - my question is if and when a website is a place of public accommodation?

    Moreover, how much can web developers do (or are to blame) if the devices which make the web accessible to disabled persons are not yet mature? The Closed Captioning system (according to Wikipedia) appeared in 1980 - 50 years after the advent of television! I think some valuable parallels can be drawn between television and the internet, and our understanding of the latter is required before we demand that it behave a certain way.

    These efforts by the ADA will bring about similar solutions/mandates governing the entire www, for various disability groups. But their approach is not conducive towards that end, and instead seeks to demonize Target, bully them (setting a dangerous precedent for all site owners), or (at worst) sensationalizes their cause.

    To not serve disabled customers is poor business practice. Period. Target, and any other company/website that does not engage reasonable accessibility requests, deserve public lambasting.

    But not serving a customer is not a criminal act, nor so reprehensible as ADA claims, as to warrant government intervention - which (because we're so inventive) usually means some punitive law. ADA claims to know the reason why Target is not serving their constituents: they are discriminating against disabled persons. Really...

    Target is not discriminating, merely coping - albeit poorly - with a nascent Internet that, even for veteran webmasters, does not have a polished turnkey solution for every form of communication.

  9. Maisie Donaldson

    Don't get me wrong, I sympathise with Chris C...

    Don't get me wrong, I sympathise with Chris C, I really do. Maybe fuckwitted bigots in the US behave better than those we have in the UK.

    To make a point - disability is created by barriers. Take away the barriers, in this case the inaccessibility of certain websites, and you take away the disability. The impairment, in this case blindness, remains, but everyone enjoys access to the website, and the website owner gets more customers and complies with the law of the land. Everyone wins.

  10. Matt

    Some thoughts

    I'm afraid what Nick suggest doesn't really help that much. There are a lot of problems with CSS between different browsers so you end up needing to use some "hacks". A surprising number of people are still using browsers which don't work well with CSS and div tags. The idea of using the tags to give meaning to the sections sometimes ends up being more of a hindrance than a help.

    Overall though this way of working does have many advantages and I certainly try and do these things.

    Coming back to blind people: Having poor sight myself has meant that I'm very interested in accessibility, but it's proving very difficult to achieve. Different readers seem to use different cues from the web page so what works for one reader doesn't work for another. I've also tried several sites which are supposed to validate the accessibility of your pages, but they don't seem to agree with one another and only helped me a little.

    Against this background you've got your clients who want a flash (good looking) site and of course the visual layout is also a means of communication, not just the text. We're also limited by the HTML/CSS tools we're given and the way the browser and OS work (do the browser and OS manufacturers have a roll to play?).

    Perhaps this needs a fresh look, after all the browser is an extension of a GUI which is primarily a visual interface. Perhaps we need to make separate pages for the blind which are designed in a different way, in the same way that a book has to be published wit normal text, and separately in brail. This would also mean that we'd need a standard so readers could be made which work with all sites.

    As for Chris.C, it seems he's got his own disability to worry about...........

  11. Matt

    Don't joke.

    >Then again, the blind people might demand that they be given a human reader

    >for their computer access (look it could happen with the courts these days!).

    >One never knows.

    Don't joke.

    "..the Treasury Department’s failure to design and issue paper currency that is readily distinguishable to blind and visually impaired individuals violates section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act." http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/paperchase/2006/11/federal-judge-rules-us-currency.php

    One proposed remedy is it would be far cheaper to purchase currency readers for all the blind then to change the design of U.S. currency -- which would have a cascade effect of necessitating changing cash drawers, currency counting machines, ATMs, wallet sizes, etc to handle multiple sizes of bills.

    Sorry Maisie, the disability doesn't exist because of barriers. It exists because a person does not share the same abilities as an normal, average person, no matter how trite a saying it may be.

    Lawsuits such as this are done more out of ego -- complete, absolute self-centeredness -- then of reality. Lawyers make much money. Deliberate misapplication of ADA similiarily have been used by architects and builders to pad their profits, such as constructing handicap accessible bunkrooms at firestations.

    Businesses should make accomodations for their customers, and it's proper to bring consumer and peer pressure on businesses about it (such Nick Ryan's comments on what is current good, state of the art design principles).

    The marketplace can adequately address this issue. Don't like that Target is not accessible to the visually impaired? Open your own store tailored to the market -- the cyberworld has far lower barriers to entry then bricks and mortar.

    What is worrisome, though, is the stagnation that can occur when you combine goverment regulation beyond what is necessary to assure a level playing field in the market (such as this ruling) and attitudes towards standardization like Nick Ryan's. Internet commerce is less then 10 years old. What if, in 1995, businesses had been told they couldn't launch a site in a primarily visual medium that wasn't equally accessible to visually and hearing impaired persons? Would've e-commerce, or even most commerical sites like newspapers, dared venture into the new medium? And without building a critical mass of users in the new medium, would've much of the innovation taken place?

    "Hi, we have an idea that does ________" "Well, legally we can't provide you with any venture capital unless it's fully handicap accessible." "Errr, it'll cost five times as much and take three times as long to get to the beta stage if that's the case..." "Yeah, but even for us VCs, it's too great a chance to get sued now over that."

    Somewhere there is a balance between regulation and laissez faire, standardization and open innovation, between handicap and reasonable accomodation. To often we have people who take dogmatic positions like the plaintiff in this case that anything less then everything is unacceptable, and judges who end up having to interpret laws to provide that everything far beyond the original legislative intent.

  12. Paul Crawford Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Long term gain

    While it is obvious that a blind person cannot obtain the same level of 'benefit' from a web site as a sighted person, this is in general a good ruling as it should result in all commercial and government web sites having to meet basic usability requirements on as equal basis as reasonably possible.

    This ultimately should lead to the full implementation of web standards, and only those that are properly supported in the main web browsers and disability support tools.

    Oh, how I long for the day when bloated flash-driven and IE-only sites are forced to be properly designed!

    This should start with some of the UK gov sites, where the numpty minister in charge seems to be unable to understand the idea of a "non-Microsoft browser".

    Sad that it takes a law suit to make thing happen, but that seems to be the USA (and these days, the UK) way...

  13. Nick Ryan Silver badge

    One further point...

    Apparently (I've been told this by somebody I know who is both wheel-chair ridden and a champion of accessibility), customers in the disabled market are *much* more loyal to a brand/company that provides a good service compared to non-disabled customers. i.e. If you give them a good service they'll keep on coming back to it and, importantly, will spread the word around about the good service.

    Maisie Donaldson makes a good point that I missed - the aim is to include ALL the potential customers, not to exclude them because you're too lazy/thoughtless to take them into account.

    For example, in real bricks and mortar terms, it takes very little additional effort to ensure that a new building is full accessible by wheelchair users. Retro-fitting an existing building, on the other hand, is what is known as a "bugger" (and often an expensive one at that). However if you consider that a fully wheelchair accessible building will also help other users, for example deliverymen or internal staff who need to shift heavy items, it's a positive point there as well. From an IT perspective, it's a LOT easier to shift heavy kit in modern, accessible buildings than older or just poorly designed ones. You can, of course, go overboard and one site that I visited all the non-wheelchair using staff must have had bad backs from having to continually stoop down to reach light switches, door openers and so on.

    Hopefully you get the point - accessibility can help everyone, not just those that absolutely require it. If you consider it to start with, it costs very little time or money to implement and brings many advantages. If you attempt to retro-fit it then you're in for an "interesting" time...

  14. Richard Neill

    Ajax?

    I've always followed the rule "do not use javascript", which guarantees that a decent browser can always work sans mouse. However, with Web2.0 and all the AJAX stuff, is it still possible to be rodent-free?

  15. Ian
    Thumb Down

    I understand the issue but...

    The biggest problem I have is with the argument "it's better if they do it as they'll have more customers so it's financially sound they do it", that may be true but shouldn't that be for the business to decide?

    If I'm computer illiterate and run a small binocular shop that has the choice of going out of business or trading online, why should I have to spend upto a few thousand for a professional web developer to ensure I have a site that caters to the blind when the chance of me getting someone whose blind coming to buy binoculars off me is like, 1 billion to 1? Even if I do get a blind customer or two, the cost of professional web development is going to outweigh the sales benefits.

    I'm all for helping the disabled if it makes sense, but adding in a blanket law undoubtedly hurts more people than it helps - even if the web was fully accessible I can outright assure you that the chance of most websites getting a blind visitor would still be next to nothing, the only sites that would would be the big boys like MS or big shopping chains, as a result therefore for these big sites it would make financial sense to splash out and make sure their site is accessible.

    There doesn't need to be a law in place, what if Joe average installs some blog software on his site, not knowing the first thing about accessibility and gets sued? It's hardly fair, do you have to know about braille to write a book or even a newspaper article?

    I think the bigger threat if laws like this go through is from certain disabled people abusing it to become rich by simply suing all the poor Joe averages who don't know any better - that's not to say disabled people are that shallow in general, but let's face it some of them will be albeit likely a tiny minority.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Size of currency

    Matt, having different sized currency notes is not a disaster. We have different sized notes here in Aus, and it is NOT something that business large or small complains about. It does NOT make our wallets and cash drawers more expensive: it DOES make it easier for businesses that handle cash.

    US currency has not been identical for the last 200 hundred years. Within your lifetime there have been changes to the technology used to count and verify US notes, and to the physical characteristics of the notes, causing changes to all the hardware that handles US currency notes. This has not been an economic disastor (the equipment wears out anyway). All that business needs is fair, long-term warning about changes to the currency.

    That is a political problem, not an economic or business problem.

    Of course, people don't like change. That is a political problem too, not an economic of social justice problem.

  17. miika
    Flame

    Kudos

    Nick Ryan ++

    Chris C -----------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Hopefully if you ever become disabled Chris, your words won't get Googled to haunt you.

  18. Mike Row
    Thumb Down

    So when are they going to sue GM, Ford, Chrysler, BMW, Mercedes

    Computers are a VISUAL device. The internet has become what it is based on the delivery of VISUAL content. Not everything can be translated for the visually impaired.

    Describe a rainbow to a man/woman who has been blind from birth and never seen colors. You have to! I just made a law that says you have to!

    This is stupid. I would say more but I know it would just be wasting more of my time.

  19. RW
    Go

    Information Resources

    Three websites that touch on accessibility:

    http://www.useit.com/alertbox/

    http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com/dailysucker/

    http://joeclark.org/book/sashay/serialization/

    Alertbox is Jakob Nielsen's occasional column on website design. Unfortunately, he saves the real meat and detail for his costly publications, but the online series still has a lot of worthy material in it. One virtue of Nielsen's work is that a lot of it is based on user testing, not unsupported opinion.

    Web Pages That Suck is Vicent Flander's site. It has a rather joking flavor which obscures the fundamentally serious nature of the advice it offers. The Daily Sucker feature is a little tiresome in that it keeps rehashing the same old sins. But otoh, isn't there some platitude about the impossibility of inventing a new sin? Or was that an Oscar Wilde bon mot?

    Finally, the last of these is an online version of Joe Clark's book on accessibility. He freely admits that the text is already out of date in some particulars, but imho for the most part it remains valid.

    Of all the taglines scattered across these three sites, the one that always sticks in my mind is on Web Pages That Suck: visitors don't care about you or your website; they only want *their* problems solved and if your site doesn't solve those problems, they'll leave toot sweet. Or words to that effect.

    Taken as a whole, these sites piss all over webpages that make gratuitous (i.e. non-essential) use of Flash, Javascript, images, colors, and other decorative facilities. I would add to that list a personal bete noire: webpages that specify fonts or type sizes and don't reflow properly if the user overrides the page-specified type parameters.

  20. Chris C

    Such flawed (lack of) logic

    miiki, in your attempt to put me down, you made two assumptions:

    1) That I am not disabled.

    2) That if I became disabled, I would automatically demand additional rights and public and governmental assistance.

    I'm not so sure about point one. I am somewhat dyslexic, and I do have severe memory problems (in that I can't remember things, or if I do, not for very long).

    You are completely off-base on point two, however. I have always been of the mindset that I will take care of myself. I do not demand, or even ask for, help from others. If I became disabled in the traditional sense of the word (blind, deaf, physically disabled, etc), I still wouldn't demand help from anybody. I would never demand anybody change their ways to accommodate me. I would simply accept that there would be certain things I would no longer be able to do. That's what "disabled" means.

    As for Maisie: "To make a point - disability is created by barriers." You are absolutely correct. But, and you might have to step outside your comfort zone to do this, take a step back and think what exactly those barriers are. You're focusing on what YOU view as a barrier instead of seeing the ACTUAL barrier. Why can't a blind person see a website, what's their barrier? Oh, yes, that's right -- IT'S THAT THEY'RE BLIND. Websites like target.com aren't discriminating against anyone; they aren't saying "you can't shop here". They're simply not taking additional steps to cater to you.

  21. Glenn Gilbert

    What about browsers

    Most visually impaired people aren't blind. Most find it difficult to read the microscopic grey text on a grey background so loved by "designers" of the web too generation.

    There are differences between browsers. IE6 won't allow the text to be resized beyond a certain point. IE7 has very poorly implemented zooming, so that the page zooms in, so you have to scroll the page sideways to read it. It might come as a surprise, but when one zooms (thats <ctl><scroll> on the mouse) the screen doesn't get bigger.

    By comparison, Firefox allows the text font size to be increased without limit (<ctl><scrol>). It also allows the styling to be turned off (<ctl><shift>S) which enables the text to be read in black and white.

    Maybe someone should take Microsoft to task over their lack of support for accessibility.

    Also, after you've implemented your site using CSS -- which is better for everyone -- make sure you've styled it such that anyone over 40 can read it.

    Website accessibility isn't bloody rocket science. Its there for the benefit of everyone.

  22. Glenn Gilbert
    Flame

    Re: online binocular shop analogy

    > getting someone whose blind coming to buy binoculars off me is like, 1 billion to 1?

    How about a blind person buys a present for a relative or friend? It's a lot easier to research on the intarweb than it is going into a bricks-and-mortar binocular store.

    Please don't be so narrow minded. If, using your analogy, you've a choice between an "expensive" compliant website and some shoddy, poorly designed piece of rubbish that only works on some browsers, isn't Google friendly, takes an age to download, and will probably look crap - not to mention irking any passing grumpy old git.

    How about you choose to source your websites from people who are competent. Not some cowboy son/daughter of a friend who knows nothing but "are so good with computers".

    If you must look at templates try these sites:

    - www.oswd.org

    - www.opendesigns.org

    Both of which have page designs that look good AND conform to accessibility standards. And most of them are free.

    If you must use a cowboy, please choose the right design first and then insist they use this as the basis for your website.

    Alternatively choose someone who knows what they're doing. It'll be much cheaper in the long run.

    Carrot or stick, you choose. Websites *will* get better.

  23. Fran Taylor

    It's not hard

    to make your site accessible. As is pointed out above, it goes hand-in-hand with better compatibility and better searching. A proper web site works well with Firefox, lynx, and IE with JAWS (the blind person's only real choice at this point).

    If you are looking for info about this, a great place to start is the w3c. They are very involved with the folks who make screen readers, and the browser developers who touch this functionality.

    If you are blind, and you have had good web-surfing experience with anything besides IE and JAWS, please speak up! My blind friend is really sick of Windows, but nothing else seems to work. Gnome/Linux and OSX are getting close, but there are still daunting issues.

  24. Ole Juul
    IT Angle

    More than meets the eye

    I am shocked at the number of people who seem to think that computers are a visual medium. Where is that coming from? What ever happened to the concept of data processing?

    Computers can be used for any medium you please, including visual, audio, mechanical, pulp and paper processing, you name it. Personally, for human interaction, I think the use of anything but text and numbers is mostly frivolous pap and often serves no real purpose other than to amuse simple minds. YMMV. We're talking about information technology. Right?

    There may very well be a political side to this, but I'm glad that some people here understand that this story has a real IT angle and is not just about a minority group nor visual preference.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: More than meets the eye.

    "I am shocked at the number of people who seem to think that computers are a visual medium. Where is that coming from?"

    From you apparently.

    "Personally, for human interaction, I think the use of anything but text and numbers is mostly frivolous pap and often serves no real purpose other than to amuse simple minds."

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    What a bunch of pricks

    So f**k em all. The cripples? Don't want ramps or lifts in shops, that would be to expensive. Don't want inductive loops in banks and shops, just shout at deaf people. Blind? Well just guess when and where to cross the road, shoot the doggy.

    As for the retard who's dyslexic, let get rid rid of spell checkers, he can look like an idiot when typing letters or Cv's.

    I have never come across a bunch of bigotted morons in my life!

    Oh well, let's just gas everyone who's not perfect, nearly worked for Hitler.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    @some of the above

    @Chris C ... well you may not have been trying but you were really objectionable. Its called the law chum, and though you are obviously a bit behind the times, maybe its time to catch up, real quick like, rather than the troglodyte you are coming across as.

    @Mat - so rather than change the easiest to forge note in creation you intend to fight to keep the green back. Doh ! Doh ! Doh !

    Maybe its me, but here in blighty we don't seem to have any problems making sites available to visually impaired people.

  28. Chris Cheale

    blah blah blah

    Is this not basically the same as the DDA that's already in-place in the UK?

    As an aside making your pages accessible has the beneficial side-effect that it makes them more readable for search engine robots. It's a win-win situation for the businesses and their customers - it's just the clueless, lazy, rip-off merchant web developers who can't be arsed to do their jobs even halfway right that loose out - oh, how my heart bleeds for them.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No bigot, just common sense

    Why does taking an opinion against enacting this type of law automatically make one a bigot? We all have limitations and people legally identified as "physically disabled" certainly have more challenges than most.

    I think that making your site accessible is a noble cause and as some have pointed out, may even end up benefiting many companies who do so. However it's clear that asking hundreds of thousands, if not millions of small businesses trying to do business on the web, to completely revamp their websites in order to make things easier for a select few is going to cause harm to many while helping few.

    Should we sue homebuilders across the country, or force them to redesign every house, for making shelves that my "not so tall" wife can't reach? I mean, we can either spend billions making every house with lower shelves or my wife can simply ask someone taller when she needs something off the top shelf.

    OK. Pretty lame analogy, but I do think looking at this issue from the other direction is far more efficient and more practical. How do we help those with disabilities to help themselves instead of forcing everyone to overbuild everything and/or limit choices in order to accommodate every conceivable situation or personal disability.

    For example, can someone simply help the blind person shop online, whether a friend, family member or social services volunteer or staff memeber. When a wheelchair bound person goes shopping, don't they still need someone to help them retrieve items from shelves and to identify prices, colors, etc.

    I have nothing against disabled people of course and I do feel that as a society we should try to do whatever is practical to accommodate people of all types, sizes, disabilities, etc. Let's just be sensible about how we do it it.

    Of course all of the web developers here love the idea of small businesses having to shell out thousands of dollars for something that isn't likely to make them a dime but this law could put a large number of smaller companies out of business for essentially no good reason.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Unhappy

    @A Coward

    " .....social services volunteer or staff memeber"

    So instead of few people redesigning a website, everytime someone with a disability and remember this doesn't apply just to blind people, but those who can't use a mouse, even colourblind people, should get help.

    So instead of a few people who can't be bothered to think of what they are doing, millions have to ask someone to come and help them.

    But I guess off loading billions of pounds of cost onto social services and charities is best....

    Talk about "not my problem, guv!"

    I really hope you don't have a stroke one day and have to rely on someone popping round once a week to help you order your shopping...

  31. Jon
    Joke

    IT for the blind

    Yes, a lawyer will get paid for this. That's not a sin, that's business. I wonder if springing the law on large businesses is the only recourse some disabled people get. Yes, businesses are often required to tailor their physical store to the needs of the disabled: ramps, staff that speak, etc., etc. No, being dyslexic doesn't qualify as a disability.

    Anyway, enough arm-waving. Here's my plan: I will write an extension to the popular Firefox web browser that prints out to braille. I will base the design on an app that prints ASCII to braille that was designed by some students at my school years ago. I will obtain a printing device that prints braille to test. I will also develop an alternative interface based on speech, and partner up with speech-synthesis / recognition companies to build in a voice recognition interface / test to speech interface for the browser. I will charge everyone $1million for all of this, which everyone will gladly pay.

  32. robert
    Unhappy

    Think!

    Come on guys - imagine you went blind and couldn't access anything with your screen reader (which does a remarkable job of making a computer accessible) just because some lasy webmaster couldn't be bother to code the web-site according to a standard. It's not difficult to learn (x)html & css, and if a business is paying a professional, it's not too much trouble to structure a document properly

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't think you get it

    If reality was as you present it, "a few people bothering to think what they are doing" "millions having to ask for help"...resulting in "billions spent on social services" then you are of course right. That's not what I'm saying.

    Most large companies already invest in making their sites accessible because they have the funds to do it and know that given a large enough user base, providing better service to the disabled community will pay dividends for them. And smaller businesses will also likely do the same over time as they can afford to modernize and upgrade their existing infrastructure.

    I'm not arguing against the idea of taking accessiblity into account when designing sites, only the law that forces every site owner to make the investment whether it makes sense or not..

    Do you deny that there are many small businesses who have already spent many thousands of dollars on complicated ecommerce infrastructure who simply can not afford to spend many tens of thousands of dollars for something that they will never recoupe?

    Free markets will provide the services necessary. As you say, there are millions of handicapped people who would be interested in businesses who cater to their needs and for that reason alone businesses will do so.

    Target pisses you off. Go buy from K-mart then.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    Hmm ...

    I'd be curious how life would change for Chris C. if he ever suffered a from closed angle glaucoma during the night.

    I think that he'd find being "a little dyslexic" the least of his worries.

    (I hope he never finds out - I guess I'd rather he be ignorant and bullheaded than blinded and (perhaps) remorseful.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Alert

    @Jon

    Blind people already have text to speech readers, that's how they use a browser...ffs....Arrrgggghhhh

    <Bangs head against brick wall>

  36. Keith Doyle

    It's not rocket science...

    Accessibility is not all that hard, but you have to be aware of it. We need a case like this to raise awareness if nothing else. Clueless or lazy webmasters who can't be bothered to worry about this deserve to be relegated to the fringes of the internet.

    Newspapers don't have this worry because there are technical solutions to it-- you can buy an electronic reader that will read the text of a newspaper aloud-- and photos often have captions, the newspaper's "alt text" equivalent, and now most have a web presence that, get this-- needs to be accessible...

    In addition, there is significant benefit for all of us-- script crippled websites will become less obnoxious, and accessibility improves searching and filtering capabilities. Given that computers are mostly blind themselves, they are similarly inhibited by non-accessible sites without a "human" reader to translate, and I often don't want to be the one that has to spend the time to be the computer's web-eyes and/or babysitter. I often use command scripts to automate repetitive browsing operations that are impeded by non-accessible sites-- my blind computer "agents" need that accessibility every bit as much as humans do, for effective functionality-- why force me to manually click on every link and button just because some web-hack is overly enamored with the latest "flash"-in-the-pan visual glitz-tools?

    And I agree about the text browser-- I don't always use one but I do hate sites that don't work with them, which can usually be identified by uselessness with a text-only browser.

    I have 10 fingers that can work in parallel, not just one-- the mouse takes "ease-of-use" to the "Playskool" extreme, leaving the experience of interacting with a computer akin to playing with kids toys instead of the symphonic virtuosity it could be. Every time I have to take my fingers off the touch-typists "home" position, I'm losing productivity, reduced to one finger, when even the keyboard could be improved-- you can't play "chords" in any meaningful sense of the word for example. And with GUI browsing, I turn off Java & javascript to the extent possible, as that is the primary source of offensive obnoxities such as ad-glitz and security flaws. I also prefer text-only email because it's far more secure-- but then again, I got doodling out of my system on my highschool math papers...

    Get used to it and learn a little about accessibility before your own eyesight gives out-- a case like this is long overdue.

  37. Jason The Saj
    Thumb Down

    California shows it's stupidity once more....

    First off, 10-to-1 I'll bet few blind people can navigate all the California state & municipal sites effectively. So why don't they start with themselves.

    Second, if the government feels that blind people need to be able to do everything a seeing person can then by all means; the State of California should start by issuing driver's licenses to the blind. And demanding that all automobiles be able to convey the road to blind people.

    Lastly, I !@#$% hate handicap accessible bathrooms. In my new job ALL bathrooms are so equipped. They are uncomfortable and hurt me. Why? Because I'm short and the extra tall toilets are extermely uncomfortable to me.

    Should I sue?

  38. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  39. C

    This is ridiculous

    I think this is the best example so far:

    "We need a case like this to raise awareness if nothing else."

    We do NOT need a new interpretation of the law every time someone thinks of something that pisses them off and needs to be changed. This is not about best coding practices, or what would most profit business, or how effective other solutions would be. A state court has promulgated a rule that, thanks to the nature of its subject matter, is going to bind the entire country with a nebulous standard that will be re-litigated over and over again, and has *at best* a tenuous connection to the law they are interpreting. This court has turned a website into a 'place of public accommodation." The sort of corporate website here is, essentially, just an electronic copy of a catalog. The only difference is the medium (electronic rather than paper) and the ordering method (which may be accomplished by ordering electronically). It's illogical and downright silly to claim that a catalog somehow transforms into a "place" simply because it is in electronic form. It's an advertisement, an invitation to the consumer. It is NOT a place. Are television ads going to be required to have an accompanying audio track, explaining everything that is happening on screen? This is the point that keeps being made over and over again here - dragging the law into your opinions on best coding practices affects more than just website design, until and unless there is legislative action to clarify things.

    Oh, as for the argument that a blind person might buy a gift for a relative from the binocular shop, I am pretty sure the OP's point was that these transactions are so few and far between as to make it irrelevant to the store's bottom line. If the store spends an extra $2000 on website design changes that net him $100 a year in extra profits, that is a problem. And the choice is not between a compliant website and a crappy website, and that is basically arguing to the absurd I might add. You can have an otherwise perfectly appealing website that is not well suited to blind viewers.

  40. Sabahattin Gucukoglu

    Cor Blimey, Guvners

    There's a load of stuff here I can't possibly respond to all of (though I would if I had time), but here's to some of the most promising oratory. Oh, and yes, I'm totally blind. Totally duff, do you hear? From birth, and it's congenital and sex-linked and the outcome isn't guaranteed to be fortunate provided I ever have a boy. It might not be blindness, that is.

    I feel for everyone. We may not all have the same capabilities, but as humans we owe each other respect and ought to have the courage to conscientiously do as best we can to help others, rather than make impulsive decisions based on our hasty judgements. No matter how you feel for someone with a disability, it is almost certainly not nearly the pain and frustration they themselves feel in pressing situations. Trust me - I've had it from both sides. In that sense we are all equal, although I personally feel my disability to be quite the most trifling of many other more impairing. And although I agree there are those spoiled and immature enough to take advantage of their minority status (not helped by the way our state calculates its rewards for disabilities), there are many others who won't and don't deserve treatment as though they did.

    Chris C:

    "Don't get me wrong, I sympathize with disabled people, I really do. But why is it

    that everything needs to be created for the lowest common denominator (no offense

    intended)?"

    First-rate sympathy, that. Go on like this and you'll get the Nightingale award for sure. Rest of your screed discarded off-hand as being basically flawed in light of obvious thinking, the cost of the net, the availability of standards, etc, as nobly pointed out by others. The "It's not my fault if you're duff" argument is not how to make people realise that others out there really do need help - yes, you will too, if you become disabled (to think otherwise is very ignorant of the issues at hand) and I hope for your sake that your chosen supreme being didn't hear you and you don't. I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

    In response to Fran Taylor: Firefox works with Window-Eyes and JAWS. IE works with JAWS, Window-Eyes and Hal (the "Big three" screen readers). See also NVDA, an Open Source screen reader for Doze: http://www.nvda-project.org/ . Supports some DHTML elements in Mozzy's DOM. Hot stuff, that.

    On Linux: in textmode, brltty (my favourite, braille terminal driver) works just fine with practically any current textmode browser/mail/newsreader (I use elinks), with the bonus that most mail/news/browsers have been modified to work in mainstream sources with the AT tools (cursor tracking, etc). Oh, the beauty of Open Source! Also, YASR (external) and Speakup (in-kernel) screen readers. Mozzy is less perfectly supported under Gnome with Orca, as is OpenOffice. But they're getting there. Orca, otherwise, runs superbly with Gnome, and work is underway to get the KDE ATSPI/ATK bridge worked up to allow Gnome AT to run with KDE interface. Includes support for terminal and the speech dispatcher supports software TTS. Ubuntu, furthermore, is live with accessibility - see here: https://help.ubuntu.com/community/Accessibility

    OSX: Tiger is accompanied by Voiceover, which works alright with Safari, though not superbly. Leopard will apparently have a better screen reader in it with some revolutionary features, and has the bonus of having some genuine blind-person's feedback (first release was a bit, y'know, experimental).

    And, what the hell, something on a slightly related note: AGRIP, http://www.agrip.org.uk/

    (See? We don't all just sit around here on our arses whining! No, we sit around here on our arses playing deathmatches! :-) )

    Yes, the W3C's validation tools encourage you to check for the WAI elements. Use them! Oh, and keep a couple of testers of varying kinds on hand. It shouldn't be hard, of course, because you developed your site perfectly the first time round ... didn't you? No, there are no excuses. Sorry. The tools, the specs, the knowledge - they're all free. Testers accumulate every which place, like on mailing lists. Ask around. Don't use crappy elements for no reason, like heavy javascript and mindless flashy Flash in core functionality. All that's left for you to source is a bit of commitment. There's no reason at all you can't make your site enjoyable to everyone.

    Ole Juul: totally agree with you here; graphical elements are taking precedence when they should not. Give everyone a command-line shell, like in the good old days! Bring back gopher and FTP and Archie! :-) Seriously though, do give thought to the lonely man with the 80x25 terminal, or the poor sod without any net access at all but only a proprietary mail interface in a tight spot, for he is smarter than you are. :-) I think the web was a nice use to put those frail new desktop GUIs to back then, but it's gone way too far. The web isn't just about document retrieval anymore, and the platform-neutrality that was taken for granted back then has gone. Perhaps the "Semantic web" will change this in future, but somehow I don't see it happening - people are obsessed with HTTP and HTML and XHTML and all that stuff and use it for things it just isn't bloody well designed for. But I digress.

    Cases and precedent: I hate to say it, but making a fuss does have the useful effect of causing people to take note and draws attention to the issues, even if it is a little bit inglorious. Many successful lobbyings have taken quite significant effort of amassment by blind individuals, and there've been quite a few petitions and such just to make the point, mostly for insensitive corporate monoliths (there were ones recently for Google and Hotmail). Where the money is, the sense isn't. On that footing, a court case is a welcome change. By contrast, the little guys are often quite ready to put the devs on the frontlines to make their portals/whatever accessible. (Elreg, BTW, is great.) Obviously many institutions are legally required (banks/telecoms/etc) by DDA, but even so there's been quite a lot of recommendation for those that cater especially well. Anyway, I think the positive aspects of this case significantly outway any ill-will directed at prosecution for giving any appearance of arrogance.

    Right, think that's it.

    Cheers,

    Sabahattin

  41. Andy Bright

    Discrimination

    I don't know whether the Target issue falls under this, but it seems that there needs to be a line drawn between necessity to live and function (going to work, doing your grocery shopping, paying your bills, using a bathroom, etc) and entertainment when it comes to creating new laws.

    If having access to Target is in some way necessary in order to fulfill your basic needs, even if that just means you can't do your Christmas shopping without it, then yes - their website ought to be accessible. Doesn't seem to me that it's all that difficult to follow a few standards so your website is compatible with mainstream accessibility software. Plenty of websites are and don't seem to suffer in terms of functionality because of it.

    The real issue is whether you need a law here. If there is a prevalence amongst retailers that don't make their websites accessible then perhaps you do, if it's just one retailer then public humiliation ought to be enough to get them to follow the lead of more responsible businesses.

  42. tim
    Boffin

    @ Glenn Gilbert re IE7 text size

    IE7 does have the same text resize function as IE6 as well as the Zoom. Its in View>Text size rather than on the mouse shortcut. I actually find the zoom quite handy for veiwing pictures. (yes, I know other browsers have zoom....)

  43. C

    @ Sabahattin

    On Cases and Precedent:

    Petitions and lobbying are not exactly binding on anyone at all, and the idea that a court case that gives you the result you like in a specific instance is a bit (pardon the unintentional pun) myopic. There are all sorts of negative things that could go along with calling a website a "place of public accommodation." The biggest one is that a person maintaining a website could be on the hook for civil penalties up to $50000, just because this far-from-obvious reading of the ADA was used against them by a zealous California Attorney General. This could, in fact, be quite a lucrative new revenue stream for the state, since someone maintaining a website anywhere in the US could be hauled into Federal court by the California AG because they are maintaining a "place of public accommodation" in California by virtue of their website's accessibility from California. Further, now this would start bringing in all the state laws, since state laws are also an issue in the case and, after all, now a Federal court has asserted that websites are places of public accommodation (not the first time, as I recall, but hopefully the last). All websites will have to be designed to accommodate the disabled according to all the local variations on these laws regarding disabled persons, which could make the life of a webmaster a living hell. There could be different and conflicting methods required by two laws, and different sets of pages may have to be constructed for people from certain states.

    It's great that some random blind guy can now use Target's website. That is *totally* worth screwing over a nation of webmasters, subjecting Mom and Pop online shops to fines higher than their family income, and attorney fees for battling it out in Federal court with an AG from a state they have never dealt with.

    This is a place for legislation. Write a Congressman. Don't cheer on a court for creating a law where there was none, and using a statute for a purpose it is neither designed nor particularly suited for.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    This is insane!

    If the U.S. Government passes this kind of law it would cost U.S. businesses, large and small, and thus the U.S. economy many billions of dollars. For what? So some guy can buy some stuff from Target that he could probably buy easily enough somewhere else anyway if he did a little research?

    Can someone please make a website that lists "handicap friendly" sites and stores? It would be free advertising for any business that decides to make the investment in catering to this market and would make an excellent starting point for any handicapped person looking to shop online.

    Maybe someone should develop a search engine that only accepts sites that pass all accessibility standards. Again, this provides economic incentive for businesses to invest in order to get listed without making ridiculous laws that could likely force a large number of smaller companies and even hobby sites right out of existence.

  45. Bounty

    constructive comment?

    I think we can all come up with some absurd stuff. We could get a blind, deaf, mute, parapalegic to sue Winchester for not making a shotgun that's accessable. (if I was that disabled, I'd totally use a shotgun if I could.) A blind person who can't drive... classic. Then agian... is this absurd? Where is the line?

    I think lobbying for new laws, could be constructive. I'm all for a new law, then everyone is on a playing field they can know. Plus it's democracy. This lawsuit and the judge's actions suck.

  46. Sabahattin Gucukoglu

    @ C, Re: Cases/Precedent

    Petitions and lobbying aren't binding, no; so it's not surprising that it's often not effective at all. I'm sorry, but you must see this from the plaintiff's point of view - website providing potential independence for blind person for large retailer not accessible for what appears to be a reasonable amount of work in state providing for accommodation across the board. If the blind chap had his reasons for using that retailer, and there's no easy way to justify why the changes can't be made at non-impacting cost, then the case still has merit.

    I did leave out whether the site really constitutes reasonable accommodation, and it's not something I can easily answer to, although the judge's remarks about using the site as a vector for planned shopping has some sense to it in my opinion as a frequent blind online shopper. I take your point, though, about potential abuses here. It is, as I say, somewhat inglorious a use of the legislation. It will be necessary to ensure that people are not financially impacted providing that a reasonable subset of disabilities are catered to for all visitors; something I think is more than possible with current W3C WAI and other guidelines and tools. But if I want to lobby someone, it's my local MP, and over here in Blighty we're pretty hard on the DDA requirements and penalties and, besides, pretty good to our less-capable citizens. Unless you're government - then you're excuse for having dreadful website design is that you don't care.

    "It's great that some random blind guy can now use Target's website. That is *totally*

    worth screwing over a nation of webmasters, subjecting Mom and Pop online shops to

    fines higher than their family income, and attorney fees for battling it out in Federal

    court with an AG from a state they have never dealt with."

    Your comment was complete without this. I've addressed all of it, with one exception: yes, it is great that some random blind guy can use target.com. If you maintain that any side-effects of getting accessibility as far and wide as possible are implicitly deleterious, then we've got no hope whatsoever of making the web a reasonably fair medium for everyone, as it should be. The problem, of course, is that this is by far the biggest defense against legislation of this or any other sort that mandates reasonable accessibility, whether or not the legislation was suited to the task or not. And the current US legislation (like s508) is already getting quite good lip service as it is by less devoted organisations who take the absolutely most minimal approach possible to comply.

    Cheers,

    Sabahattin

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    Just to Put a Cap On It -I'll Get Me Coat

    I don't feel even a teensy bit sorry for all the so called "webmasters" out there whinging about their "bottom lines."

    I've been writing WAI Priority-3/XHTML 1.0+ sites for some years now. It's damn easy. I write very attractive, robust, full Web 2.0-buzzword-compliant sites with AJAX and all kinds of neato bells and whistles. I support mobes and I support disabled people (not just blind -you need to keep manual dexterity and aural handicaps in mind as well).

    Stop whinging and just write decent sites, fer cryin' out loud. In the time it took you to write some of the tripe on this thread, you could have fixed a couple of pages.

  48. Jon

    @Stu Reeves

    Blind people using text-to-speech in browsers? Already exists, you say? Yes, I know that. That was the joke, you see? Ah, but of course! That would be missed if one were using just such a browser that did not render the "Joke Alert" graphic audibly! Woop! Woop! Aaarrgggh! I've destroyed myself! End of the World Imminent!!! Anyway, seeing as clarity is evidently not my bag, my point was that the debate seemed to focus on solutions that were excessively labour-intensive, and irrelevant (ie rewriting a million web pages rather than using one browser plugin) and have been resolved in reality, as you pointed out. So this, I'm certain you'll agree, renders the discussion a mooted flap-fest. :)

  49. Jon

    Furthermore

    There seems to be alot of "Cor, these blind people! They'll be wanting to fly in the Air Force next" arguments being spewed forth here. Well, guys, that's just pure bloody-mindedness. I'm not even going to grace that with an "IMHO". That's just the sort of mentality that wants to keep disabled people out of daily life because it's too much inconvenience - not to mention unsightly - for the rest of us able-bodied folk. If that's your argument, and believe you me, you'd be by no means alone, then by all means put your balls to the wire and say it and back it up. If you went blind, do you think that by making things accessible that can be reasonably made so, like web sites and shop fronts, at no real disadvantage to the able-bodied if you think about how to do it intelligently, you'd be asking too much? Just because the Government decrees that it must be so, that makes it undesirable, and let's make the lives of all the blind people in the world that bit worse to prove our point, shall we, thus deflecting our guilt onto the government? Ok, so people aren't created equal, wihch is why you have yet to hear any blind people pushing for car-driving rights, have you? But what exactly is wrong with putting in that little extra effort to grant the disabled a few small, feasible improvements to their lives. And even if we can't be bothered getting up off our fat arses to make those improvements - and yes I do fit snugly into that category, I have to say - then even voicing support and concern seems to be beyond the reach of many "people". And, no, this isn't the </rant>, end of rant, I'm sorry to say. It's the beginning, you get me?! The beginning!!

    Ok, now, here's the end.

    </rant>

    MALFORMED XML EXCEPTION. NO MATCHING <rant> .... aaahhhshhiiiitttBOOOOMMM!! ;)

  50. Glenn Gilbert
    Boffin

    @tim - IE zooming

    It would be nice if the IE7 zooming feature worked, but like the rest of that god-forsaken browser (and most of its gene pool), it's broken.

    Zooming only works for foreground pictures; any that are used as CSS backgrounds don't work - e.g. the pretty gradients, rounded corners, etc. It also rodgers block elements that are displayed inline (that's horizontal menus to most people).

    The problem with zooming is it's generally useless in reality. It increases the size of the canvas (the page you're looking at) and to the point where it requires you to scroll sideways. If you happen to have a very wide screen, then you can have the pleasure of scrolling your head from side to side - "Come on Tim!"

    It was developed by a typical plonker who is more concerned with "cool" than reality. If they understood the problem that partially sighted people have, they would realise that increasing the font size *is* the right thing to do. In the end it's a piss-poor implementation that is not as good as Opera's implementation 7 years ago. It's also unnecessary as you can install zooming software (I think that it's standard with a MS mouse on Windows). On a Mac it's simply <cmd><scroll> to zoom the screen.

    Bottom line: people who need large-sized text will use Firefox (other browsers are available), but avoid exploder like the plague.

  51. Anteaus

    When every website looks the same..

    ..we can blame the "Accessibility" zealots.

    This is already having a serious and damaging effect. Many companies opt for a website based on a known-standard CMS such as Joomla, with a bog-standard template, precisely because of concerns over "Accessibility" prosecution, and under the fears that anything out-of-the-ordinary in the way of webdesign is more likely to attract a lawsuit.

    Meanwhile, racketeers flourish, offering online tests which find all sorts of nit-picking violations on your site, then claiming they will "Make your site accessible" for a large fee, when in fact it was accessible in the first place.

    Result is that websites all start looking like boring clones of one another. The creativity is being sucked right out of webdesign by this. The disabled may (questionably) gain, but at what cost to the population as a whole?

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