Thursday 9 February 2006

Targeting Target

READY AIM FIRE! Target – an enormous chain store found throughout the United States and with a significant online presence has been targeted with a law suit from the U.S. National Federation of the Blind (NFB). With enough buzz this could be a turning point in the history of accessibility issues in the U.S. public sector, with repercussions worldwide.

Target’s own diversity statement states:

“At Target, what makes us unique is the diverse individuality of our team members—and the equally diverse characteristics of our guests.”

Oh really?

Fellow WaSP Derek Featherstone writes a very strong overview article on the Wasp site about the issue, and brings up a few good questions, such as my favorite: Who is responsible?

Derek’s taking your comments and I encourage you to make some buzz, folks!

Blog about it, comment away, get those links and trackbacks going. This could be a monumental historical case. And you can help.

Point and shoot.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 10:10 | Comments (65)

Comments (65)

  1. I’ve always though (like many) that corporations and other organizations would continue to turn a blind eye to usability and accessibility until they were hit where it counds – in the wallet.

    Here’s hoping this starts a movement in all companies to finally address all of the accessibility issues inherent in the web.

  2. Look…if Target doesn’t want to have the benefit of adding shoppers who are blind to their list of customers that is their loss. I am tired of people thinking they can sue somebody or a corporation over issues like this. This is free enterprise people and what someone should do is instead of sue Target, is to create an option for people who are blind rather then try and force government more into the lives of us American’s.

  3. Hoorah and about time. In the UK trying to get web standards was previously like pulling teeth using cotton, however there is starting to be a real turning point over the past year. I can think of 100s of targets for next cannon fodder.

  4. @Robert: no, it’s not their loss. Target provides an important service to certain economic classes of citizens. Their products tend to be higher quality withy wider choice and lower cost than many other outlets and it’s imperative to remember this isn’t just about accessibility – it’s about economic realities too.

    This isn’t about Target making a decision to purposely leave out blind people. Chances are they don’t have a clue. Or, if they have a clue, they haven’t learned yet the realities of the Web for people who can’t access it. Education is needed, and sometimes one has to be opportunistic in order to survive. In fact, that’s a very American attitude.

    I do agree re less government. A point of clarification: With enough buzz, we don’t need no stinking lawsuit. Sometimes yelling does get you heard.

  5. I must agree with Robert on this one. If we are talking about economic realities, then the NFB should have pursued a boycott of Target or some other such act of civil disobedience/re-education prior to filing a lawsuit (though I’m not familiar enough with the case to know what led up to the filing). When a large enough group of angry consumers stop buying products or patronizing a store because of an ill-advised company policy or simple corporate laziness, the company will take notice and change their behavior. We live in a capitalist society, and as such, we have multiple retailers in which to purchase our consumer goods. Many people I know boycott certain brands because of their opposition against unfair labor practices, environmental policies, corporate greed, etc., but with that they also engage in letter writing campaigns, picketing, negotiations with consumer groups, etc. in order to get their point across. Filing a lawsuit after 10 months of their initial contact with the company (if this is true, a pretty short legal time frame even in this dynamic world) is an irresponsible use of our over-burdened court system.

  6. To Robert and Jennifer:
    Laws, like disability laws, are enacted to protect people when they don’t have the resources to protect themselves — including the ability to start massive letter campaigns boycotts etc. It is regrettable that we need them but they are a last defence against the unreasonable.

    If you are in the web business and you know your stuff you are well aware that making sites accessible takes little effort if planned from the start. Retro-fitting incurs a cost but I don’t think fixing the problem would financially cripple Target.

    Education is still a big problem and must be addressed. Economic realities are also important. Hey, disabled people shop too! (what smart business would happily cut *any* percentage of profits?). If every store took this approach (Target does it why not me?) where would they shop?

    The big barrier (in my experience) has always been lack of empathy. You can’t reason and you can’t justify. Sometimes all you can do is say it is the law and you have to do it.

  7. @gavin: wow. I wish I’d said that. Beautifully written. Thank you.

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  9. I don’t know exactly how US law deals with this issue, but the main idea behind the UK Disability Discrimination Act is that an organisation providing a service to the public should not impede the ability of a disabled person to use that service. I believe this is no more important than with regard to commercial websites, which are often the best option available to people with restricted mobility. To present such people with an obstacle, whether by design or simply through ignorance, is discrimination and if it takes a lawsuit to recify the problem, then that’s fine with me. Personally I doubt whether it’ll get that far anyway, but other companies need to be made to take their accessibility obligations seriously.

  10. Thank you for your thank you. 🙂

    It is unfortunate that it keeps getting harder to explain things.
    The words are easier but somehow, these days, they get stuck in my throat.

    My best (worst) argument to counter in the last six months was:
    “You know, it’s like blind people in an art gallery… blah, blah, blah…”

    Sometimes reason fails.
    All I could say was: “And who would be worthy enough to visit your gallery?”

  11. @Robert and Jennifer: I can only assume you have never spent any time with a blind person. Your lack of empathy suggests that you simply cannot put yourself into someone else’s shoes.

    Robert – would you still consider yourself an American if you lost your sight? Do you think you might be a bit upset to discover that businesses no longer felt you were important?

    Jennifer – big business only care when things either cost money or make them liable. Most people are so poorly informed about web accessibility that a large-scale boycott just isn’t going to happen. So the only (crappy) option left is to sue. Maybe after that, there’ll be enough people to boycott the next company.

  12. Wow. I’m not entirely sure how my comments about the prudence of filing a lawsuit versus enacting genuine efforts towards re-educating a wayward business about web accesibility shows that I have a lack of empathy towards other people, but whatever.

    My point was that big business *does* care about profits, and if someone put as much time into writing the business case explaining why their site should be accessible to all as they did in getting a lawyer and suing, maybe Target would have already begun to change their ways.

    Like I said before, I don’t know enough about the case and the efforts taken leading up to the suit. But it seems to me that this is a case where using honey may have been a better intial option than going straight for the vinegar.

  13. There was one case like this Maguire vs SOCOG in 2000. It is almost forgotten now..

    But I started to make some buzz in Poland 🙂

  14. Pingback: Confessions of an Undercover Geek » Target Could Hire Me to Help with Web Accessibility

  15. Ben…
    You would assume wrong. One thing is to never assume anything based on a short statement by somebody. I am a father of four with children ranging frmo late teens to early elementry age. One of my children, the younest, was hard of hearing and we had to learn to work with him to overcome his disablity. We never expected a private organization to adopt or change their policies or ways to accept him or make thigs easier for him. If they did then great and if not then life goes on and we find other options. I am a disbled veteran due to an unfortunate parachuting accident in a wartime situation. I don’t go around and tell Target or some other business to do things so I can shop at their store. I deal with it and move on. So don’t assume anything next time as to my empathy towards the blind.

    The law states that my kids can attend a University in the State of California for free. This is a law that benefits disabled veterans in California. Now I could say this is a law that was enacted to protect me or help me provide for myself because of an unfortunate accident, but does that make it right. That is an answer of opinion and not fact. The bottom line is I will not be the burden on the tax payers of my state by abusing a law that was enforced by some special interest group in a court of law.

  16. Excuse the typos…was trying to eat and type at the sametime since I have a hectic schedule today.

  17. Put me in the Jennifer/Robert camp. The internet is not a birthright, neither is the phone, neither is buying an electric blanket at Target and it has nothing to do with lack of empathy. Blind people can’t drive cars either … shall we sue the auto makers that they aren’t making automobiles accessible?

    I make my living on the web too, I do my best to be accessible and I probably ‘do the right thing’ most of the time … but this let’s penalize the companies into being better web developers is just lunacy …

  18. There it is again:

    Hank: “Blind people can’t drive cars either … shall we sue the auto makers that they aren’t making automobiles accessible?”

    Hank, please can you explain how this is relevant to accessible websites. Are you suggesting that its physically dangerous to society for blind people to be surfing the web, or making an online purchase?

  19. I doesn’t sound that is what Hank is saying. I think he is making the point that we can go averboard by enforcing ideas onto everyone by legal threats. Surfing the web isn’t dangerous if your blind. Should we make accessible websites for dumb people to so they don’t have to think?

  20. Have a look at Derek’s site. Target have, at least in part, capitulated. This is a good thing. More could be done but it is a start.

    When it comes down to it (in the context of web accessibility) I don’t really give a hoot about laws, profit margins or capitalism — all I care about is that people who may have the web as thier only link to the world are treated with compassion and dignity.

    When this doesn’t happen we are left with persuasion as a tool. It may be honey, it may be vinegar but it is still just a tool to right something that should already be there in a compassionate society.

    Robert says:
    “Should we make accessible websites for dumb people to so they don’t have to think?”

    I am sorry but this is getting ridiculous.

    After a comment like that all I can say is: “It is the law and you have to do it”.

  21. Quite frankly, I truly, truly hate to be the one to bring this up, but… has anyone looked at the source code for the NFB site? Suggestion: copy it into an html editor like HTML-Kit and use its text to speech converter. I bet it will not be so impressive with its return. Nothing will turn off a visitor like hearing   repeated ad nauseum. And then there is the javasccript. Don’t mean to seem persnickety, but I just felt it didn’t exactly set a good example. FWIW.

  22. woops, the blank should show   between “hearing” and “repeated”.

  23. Crud. ampersand nbsp semicolon. Couldn’t get it right, myself.

  24. @Robert and Jennifer: You’re both right, I was making assumptions about you and – worse – I attacked you instead of responding to your arguments. My apologies on all counts, I should not have let a bad mood turn into snarky comments.

  25. Regarind Hank’s comment that blind people can’t drive.

    Robert: “I think he is making the point that we can go averboard by enforcing ideas onto everyone by legal threats”

    Going overboard is one thing – but defending the right of equal opportunities is another. The free market is based on equal opportunity, but here it fails, and needs to be corrected. The free market has had a chance to correct the problem on its own, and it has clearly failed.

    You note that you content with your rights being walked all over. That’s your choice – at least you have that choice.

    There’s actually no justifiable reason why the website should not be accessible. Its plain old ignorance.

    Target have actually fixed one major problem – within the space of 24 hours since the original press release. Yes, it was a five minute job. And that’s the point. Too many people harp on about how difficult, complicated, unreasonable, costly, it is to build an accessible website, yet Target got rid of one of the three main points of argument within the space of a day.

    Its unreasonable that the NFB had to launch legal action for target web developers to do their job properly. But then target ignored polite requests and formal requests from the NFB.

    This is no different to the social and racial upheaval in the US during the sixties. Hopefully nobody has to die this time. (Remember Rosa Parks? Died October last year. She was an icon of that struggle when she refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man back in 1955 – ). Its the same problem – skin colour has been changed to disability.

  26. Mark: “Nothing will turn off a visitor like hearing repeated ad nauseum”

    Better a message repeated than none at all. Yes, its not ideal, but far better – and more useful to people using screen readers – than preventing access to the content.

  27. Gavin J: “You can’t reason and you can’t justify. Sometimes all you can do is say it is the law and you have to do it.”

    Translation: I can’t persuade them with my argument therefore the government should force my argument on them.

    That is both unreasonable and immoral (not to mention supremely arrogant). Target has a moral right to create whatever kind of website they choose. Those who are unable to use it, or don’t want to, are free to go elsewhere. In a free society people have the right to say and do things we disagree with, and no one has the right to force them to do otherwise.

  28. Nigel: “Target has a moral right to create whatever kind of website they choose. Those who are unable to use it, or don’t want to, are free to go elsewhere.”

    And when there are no sites on the internet that are accessible to the blind, then where do they go? Are we going to let companies do whatever they want, to the point that the blind are not able to shop anywhere?

    Better yet, companies should have a right not to build wheelchair ramps. It’s their storefront, they have a right to do whatever they want, those who are unable to enter the store, or don’t want to, can go elsewhere. That is your logic after all.

    The only ones being unreasonable and immoral (not to mention supremely arrogant) here are Target. If you haven’t noticed, companies in the U.S. (and probably elsewhere) are cold and uncompassionate. They care about the profit, nothing else, and it’s only when there is a lawsuit on the table that they consider anything else.

  29. Christian, If you want to live in a free country you’d better leave companies free whether you like what they do or not, that’s the price of freedom. There are, and there always will be, alternatives for all kinds of people in a free society but only to the extent that that society is free.

    In a capitalist country a company exists to make a profit, and it’s perfectly moral that they are profit-driven. In fact the profit motive is a major incentive to expand their reach and gain more customers and become even more profitable. What ever a particular company or individual decides to do though is his business. No one has the right to force their view of “warmth and compassion” on them. Coercion is anything but “warm and compassionate.”

  30. Hey Nigel, read Joe Clark’s comment over on Derek’s site.
    A little history never goes astray.

    And as for me being “immoral (not to mention supremely arrogant)”, well that can be your personal interpretation. No one can deny you that right.

    I am a professional web developer — I am concerned with real people getting real access to services that most take for granted.

    All I know is that every time an accessibility advocate wins it is a little easier for those who are confined to a bed, badly disabled or terribly disfigured to feel a closer part of our society.

    Not everyone is born disabled. May you never be in the position where you need a service online and no one has made it accessible.

    Oh… and dude… “it is the law and you have to do it”.

  31. The other possible conclusion here is/might be, is that everybody involved in promoting webstandards did not do enough to raise general awareness on this issue.
    Target overlooked some things that should have been done, because they were not aware of it. You can not implement anything, that you do not know about.

    We, standaristas, have largely ourselves to blame for not having done enough to get the ideas out in the corporate world.

    I am convinced that does not get read by the marketing-managers in charge. Just by the people that take an interest in web-standards in the first place.
    Pointing fingers and saying “Booh, you did really bad.” does not seem a very effective strategy to get word out into the corporate world.

  32. Nigel, please spare me the political science lesson. Freedom belongs to the people, not to corporate entities. I want to live in a country where the lives of the people are not dictated by companies, where companies do not decide who can buy and who can’t. I think that decision should be left up to the people, and I hope that in this case the judge will stand up for the rights of the people over that of the corporation. I would like to be an idealist and blindly think that we can just let Target do as they wish and that they would ultimately be good, but that is just not going to happen.

  33. I’m black. Years ago, after approximately 100 years of polite asking, the government in the US would not recognize the rights of black people. A two-prong effort was made to fight bad policy- boycotts/protests and legal briefs. Sometomes you do have to force the government to listen, and you have to force retailers, too. When the law was different than it is now, retailers said they’d lose white customers if they let in black ones- fixing the problem was ‘too costly’. That turned out to be untrue. Gay spousal equivalency has not cost companies money or made them lose droves of customers. That was also a falsehood.

    I am not blind, but my grandfather was. I was actually getting ready to buy something at today, when I remembered seeing a story about the company being sued, so I googled ‘blind people target’ and found this site. Instead of shopping, I sent Target the following email.
    “Hi there! I’ve been looking for a new phone for a while, and I decided to look online. I love your Crosley phones! Thank you for having such great stock. I picked out the black 302 wall phone and was just about to add a retro clock radio to my order… but then I remembered that your website isn’t accessible to blind people. My grandfather was blind, and I know I’d be violating his memory if I bought from you. Sorry- I really wanted to shop with you, but I guess I’ll have to make my purchase somewhere somewhere else. This is a shame, because you have good prices and I’ve found in the past that your service was superb. I hope you change your online policy soon. Until then, I’ll be telling my family and friends not to shop at Target.”

    Will it do any good? Hmm. What if every person with a blind family member or friend wrote such a letter? What do you think would happen? Coming from an older generation (I’m 40) where we took it for granted that companies and governments might not always have the rights of middle class straight white women, gay people, people of color, and poor people as a priority, I don’t see any problem with asking for what I want- and making it clear what action will be given if I don’t get it. I also understand that even ‘good’ corporations have stockholders, and that stockholders are in the money-making business, not the do-gooding business. Therefore if they can make money while running the company onthe cheap, they’ll do so- until they learn their policies are actually losing them money.

  34. I agree it’s disgusting to see greedy people bring frivolous law suits against corporations. But the NFB isn’t someone seeking millions because he bruised his shin on a store display.

    The suit is an advocacy strategy to raise awareness, not just at Target, but throughout the corporate world. There are many more problem sites than that one.

    Boycott instead? Let’s see… We can’t use the Web. So we’ll fight that by not using the Web… Does that make sense?

  35. This whole effort has my wholehearted support. And not just for the blind but for anyone with any kind of disabilities.

    But instead of lawsuit lets simply boycott Target. That is a saner way.

  36. Gavin, nothing personal, I was talking about the viewpoint not you.

    Angsuman, I agree, boycotting is “a saner way” and it’s the only civilized course to pursue.

  37. Nigel, there’s nothing uncivilized about a lawsuit. Stop making the NFB sound barbaric.

  38. Michelle – what a great comment. Thanks!

  39. Nigel said:
    “Gavin, nothing personal, I was talking about the viewpoint not you.”

    I understand what you are saying but viewpoints aren’t disembodied entities — people have viewpoints. People also run companies and corporations.

    If I sound a bit harsh it is only because I have been having these debates since 1988. In that time I have found that there are people who JUST DON’T CARE. They won’t do a five minute fix that could help others because they JUST DON’T CARE. That, in my world, is arrogant and immoral and if it takes the law to give them a slap, so be it.

    I think that these broader issues are probably a bit off-topic (Target website) and I have already used up enough of Molly’s bandwidth for my soapbox. Feel free to post on my site if you like.

  40. Not to change the subject, but I find it funny in how much we get so worked up on such small things when corporate America does one thing we dislike.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if we put this much passion into things that are of far more importance then a website that isn’t fully accessible? If the website doesn’t work in all browsers are we going to take them to court for not making it accessible to me because it fails in my browser and they aren’t compassionate enough to fix it.

    When was the last time any of us went up to a friend, family member, or aquaintance that was somehow doing something wrong and confrinted them on it. How about the tens of thousnads if not more of kids that are emotionaly torn apart from broken homes due to parents bailing out so quick. Want to talk about a real disability. Those kids are the ones with one when that happens. Lets focus on what matters more. If my mom who doesn’t walk well anymore needs something that she can’t do because her disablilty I don’t rant and rave at a business to fix it for her, I get off my but and show real compassion by getting along side her like she did when I was a kid and help her.

  41. Robert: Be careful making assumptions about how people spend their time. I for one agree with taking care of people, and this issue is just one more example.

    I want to clarify something very important. I have a disability. It is not an obvious one, and it doesn’t affect my ability to use the Web per se. The Web, in fact, has empowered me in a way that no other tool could have to become a productive person in our society. I think we’re forgetting that side of the story: That all people can use this tool is important for not only improving ones lot in life but also for the contributions that people can make. It’s not just about going shopping online. It’s about allowing people who might otherwise NOT have access to education, community, information and as a result the ability to participate fully in their world to have that opportunity.

    The vision of the Web, as set out by Tim Berners-Lee, has always, always included global access as a primary cornerstone. Deviating from it is always going to cripple its progress. As a person who not only uses these technologies, but helps make them via the W3C, helps advocate their use via WaSP activities, books, this blog and my educational focus on the work, I can say that with a great deal of confidence.

    Thanks to the many people who have commented on this thread. I’m sad that there even has to be disagreement about what should be a fundamental piece of doing Web design and development the correct way from the start – a truly professional approach in contemporary Web dev would have, without any added work, avoided 90% or more of the issues Target is facing.

  42. Molly just to note I wasn’t making an assumption as to how people spend their time, but rather a reminder to remember what is more important. A website that is not fully accessible is trivial compared to many other things in life. However, if one would look at their calendar, their check book, and the statistics I think they speak for where their hearts truly are.

  43. Thanks for the reminder about what’s important in life Robert (no sarcasm btw), I’m sure many agree that there are many ills in this world and that they may be bigger than a website’s accessibility to it’s customer base. But this blog is about web standards and accessibility, and therefore the author and commenters concentrate on those particular ills.

  44. The NFB isn’t suing every site with accessibility problems. They couldn’t. They chose the big box to make waves. This case isn’t about fixing a Web site. It’s about fixing the Web. That’s not trivial.

    To quote from the San Francisco Chronicle, “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.”

  45. Pingback: On Target Accessibility at

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  48. Look…if Target doesn’t want to have the benefit of adding shoppers who are blind to their list of customers that is their loss. I am tired of people thinking they can sue somebody or a corporation over issues like this. This is free enterprise people and what someone should do is instead of sue Target, is to create an option for people who are blind rather then try and force government more into the lives of us American’s.

    I’m not an American. I’m Canadian. But I agree with this 100%.

    The diversity quote stated is one that is subject to interpretation. Maybe, just maybe, what Target is referring to is ethnic, cultural, and/or religious diversity. And that’s not all that uncommon in the business world.

    But the whole lawsuit idea is simply asinine. What does the blind really lose by not being able to access a certain site? They can’t go in and purchase something online? “Oh no, we’re going to spend our money elsewhere or, even more horrifying, keep it in our wallets.” And, as Robert quite rightly pointed out, there are plenty of other websites and *GASP* brick and mortar stores to shop from. The merchant loses, not the customer.

    We all have disabilities and abilities. Some of them are more obvious than others, but we all can and can’t do some things. I don’t expect any stores, online or offline, to go around catering to my inability to see out of both eyes at once. (I’m legally blind in an eye, and it switches, so my depth perception is flawed). I wouldn’t go suing anyone for building a 3D application.

    People need to lighten up and realize that, as Tom over at paraphrased, revenue is the primary driver of corporations. All this sue me, sue you, scream blue murder over accessibility is just going to turn people off of the concept.

  49. Folks, this thread refers to accessibility from the blind, and motor-skill-impaired perspectives. Allow me to introduce another…

    As technology advances, producing web content for accessibility becomes *more* important. Even users with perfect eyesight can be blocked from accessing information when using handheld, voice activated, or any other of the nifty web surfing user-agents/gadgets now emerging. And more… this audience is only going to get larger over time.

    Why would a profit driven corporation deliberately ignore such a growing ‘target audience’ (no pun intended). Perhaps this way of thinking may convince corporations that accessibility matters. Sure, it trivialises the impairment issues, but profit-driven entities only talk in dollars and cents.

  50. “But the whole lawsuit idea is simply asinine. What does the blind really lose by not being able to access a certain site?”

    The truth is that without the lawsuit, no attention would be brought to Accessibility on the web. Companies would continue to hire Web designers without Accessibility as an issue. Some Web designers would continue to take the money and run. Ethics would always place 2nd to profit. As a web designer for accessibility to be implemented at a basic level from design, it would not cost anything extra. At a high level of accessibility implementation costs would rise. For Targets case, no basic accessibility is made, which is just ignorant.

    Access to information for people with disabilities is technically possible. If not implemented at industry level, what precedence does it set for anybody else to follow? Therefore the blind and people with disabilities continue to loose out through ignorance in the community. If businesses don’t promote accessibility, the chance to promote it is lost.

    The Capitalist, free market argument is lost, Straight up because you are loosing 20% of the market by not catering for disabilities. Why force people to implement accessibility on the market. Take a building example; we would live in a world where no disabled toilets or ramps would exist on any public building because it is cheaper and housing standards would be dangerous.
    Laws are necessary to control development in a free market. It’s not fair that Target is the escape goat for the 200+ other companies who do not implement accessibility on web pages. It will not open a market of lawsuit after lawsuit because companies are given ample warnings and chances to comply before they are open with ADA taking a case against them. You only have to look at the very few cases that exist today by ADA.

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