Target Pays $6 Million To Settle Accessibility Lawsuit

After a two-year legal battle, Target has agreed to pay $6 million and make its Web site more accessible to the blind in a class action settlement with the National Federation of the Blind.

Quite a few retailers have been involved in site changes to make the Web more accessible to those with vision difficulties, but Target has been the most aggressive in fighting such efforts. As such, Target's settlement has an especially strong chance of pressuring retailers to aggressively embrace such changes.

The settlement, which was reached on Aug. 27, resolved what began on Feb. 6, 2006, when the NFB sued Target. The NFB said Target's site violated the American with Disabilities Act because it's not easily accessible to blind users. The case was certified a year later as a class action suit for legally blind individuals who couldn't easily access Target.com.

"It puts a monetary value on indiscretion and, in essence, people will pay more attention to the subject as a whole. It's now been crystallized about what it means, and that's a good thing," said Terry Golesworthy, the president of the Customer Respect Group a company that analyzes behavior between corporate Web sites and online consumers. "The thing that's more troubling to me is the fact that it's very specific to that case, it's a very specific thing that takes the access argument potentially into a limited role."

Golesworthy said the rules put in place by the NFB leave out a lot of other issues regarding people with disabilities and their access to Web sites. For example, this case may not apply to users with disabilities other than blindness.

Still, Golesworthy believes this settlement will motivate corporations to put defense plans into place in preparation for similar lawsuits to follow. He said because corporations now know how much it will cost to implement similar guidelines to Target's, and how much of a hit they will take if they're sued, they are probably formulating defense plans.

The settlement requires Target to create a $6 million fund for the settlement class, and it also requires the retailer to abide by the Target Online Assistive Technology Guidelines, a 34-page set of technical design rules that explains how the site should be built. The guidelines are meant to ensure "that blind guests using screen-reader software may acquire the same information and engage in the same transactions as are available to sighted guests with substantially equivalent ease of use," according to court documents.

In addition, Target is required to achieve NFB nonvisual accessibility certification, which means the company has to make 18 detailed changes to its site by February 2009. The NFB will monitor Target.com with quarterly testing, annual user testing and annual technical assessments by a consultant, and it must be notified of any new templates the retailer develops.

To prepare for all of these changes, the agreement says there will be "periodic one-day training sessions" for employees in charge of coding Target.com. The retailer also has to provide the NFB with a quarterly summary of any complaints it receives from users using the screen-reader technology.

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