Blind User Sues Target Over Web Accessibility

February 13, 2006 by

Bruce Sexton Jr. is a 24-year-old student at UC Berkeley. He’s also blind. And now he’s suing Target because their web site is completely inaccessible for blind users.

“What I hope is that Target and other online merchants will realize how important it is to reach 1.3 million people in this nation and the growing baby-boomer population who will also be losing vision,” said Sexton.

Target is basically the scapegoat because they’re big, popular and have one of the least accessible sites out there. But the class-action lawsuit is really a warning to all inaccessible web sites.

Who knows where this will lead, but when it comes to web site design your church can either make your site accessible or hope you don’t get sued. Either choice sends a pretty clear message.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks


When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998 and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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15 Responses to “Blind User Sues Target Over Web Accessibility”

  • whatever
    February 13, 2006

    ridiculous.


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  • Nate K
    February 13, 2006

    Personally, I think this is great. Maybe this will make some people open up their eyes and realize the medium they are working with.
    No, its not just this ONE blind person. There are MANY others out there with different handicaps that run into issues as well. It is the ignorance of designers and developers that brings things like this to our attention. The web is not a paper advertisement or a t-shirt. There are different standards and a WIDE user base. Why should be build sites that ‘look’ good but people cant even use?
    It shows a lack of professionalism when a developer makes a site that eliminates many others. It is just plain ignorant, no other way to describe it.
    I could say more – but ill keep it at that.


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  • Justin Thorp
    February 13, 2006

    I recently wrote for the Godbit Project an article about the importance of web accessibility in the church.
    http://godbit.com/article/a-web-for-everyone
    I hope the web development community grasps onto how important web accessibility is for what we are trying to do and we never have to have lawsuits again.


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  • Tally
    February 13, 2006

    I’m completely for accessibility of websites to those who are impaired… I can’t see this gentleman winning however because websites by and large are an as yet unregulated part of our society and are an OPTION to any business including target.
    This is the same with the church. It is completely OPTIONAL to have a website. I can’t see how the government would award damages because someone cannot visit your optional site.
    Building codes and food law suits are different as they have to do with laws governing structure and health… websites do not have such a class and I would predict that this goes away without fanfare and suits over this issue will get thrown out. A person doesn’t have standing to sue over an optional piece of information.


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  • Carlyle
    February 13, 2006

    You know, It’s not that I can’t see this guy’s point – Target certainly has nothing to lose and everything to gain by making their site more accessible. But does that give this guy the right to sue Target – to force them to expend man hours and money in court just to defend their right to define the parameters of their own website? When did shopping at Target become an inalienable right? I must have skipped Political Science that day.
    Maybe he feels like this is the only way that he’ll be heard by a corporation as large as this retail giant is, but still – the implications if he wins this suit are disturbing. Wouldn’t that leave any poor schmuck with a website open to lawsuit by the first person that couldn’t easily navigate their site? Seems like fertile ground for growing a nice crop of ‘lawsuit abuse’ to me…


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  • Kevin D. Hendricks
    February 13, 2006

    Carlyle, if you read the article you’ll notice that Saxton was in contact with Target and those discussions eventually broke down. That’s when the lawsuit came about.
    So it’s not like he’s trying to get Target’s attention. He had that, they just didn’t agree to change. Rather he’s trying to draw attention to the whole issue and force Target to change.
    I think Tally makes a good point that the accessibility laws probably won’t apply to a web site. But you can bet they apply to the physical Target stores.
    As an interesting side note, I’m pretty sure most government agencies are required to ensure that any web sites they produce are accessible.


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  • Matt Heerema
    February 13, 2006

    In order to clear up misconceptions and speculation we have posted an article over at Godbit about how current accessiblity legislation applies to the Web.
    There is currently a lot of guessword going on here. If you read the ADA Title III, it’s difficult for me to see how the Internet would NOT fall under it.
    We’re not lawyers, but it is possible to have a pretty good grasp of how the legislation affects the web. WebAIM is an invaluable resource for such things.


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  • Carlyle
    February 13, 2006

    Kevin –
    You’re right – reading the linked article puts a bit of a different spin on the issue, and certainly increases my sympathy for Mr. Sexton’s position. I must admit after reading that article that I’m a little surprised Target would decline to make such positive changes to their site – if nothing else it is, truly, “just good business,” and seems to be a great PR opportunity to boot.
    My unease remains, though, with the thought of a single private entity having the power to tell Target how to run their website, perhaps because in theory that means he has a right to tell me how to run mine as well – and you, yours. It’s the implications and possibilities that I can imagine precipitating from that kind of power that concern me.
    Admittedly there’s a far cry between Target’s site and mine, in both purpose and content, so it’s quite likely I’ve got my nose against a tree, rather than looking at the forest. Were I running Target’s e-commerce division, I would have started investigations into expanding the useability of my site the moment I heard from Mr. Sexton, so in that respect, I suppose the point is moot.
    I’ve run on long enough. Looking at it with my personal biases set aside, I think – if Target is wise – they will settle out of court and use the money they save to hire a good ‘full access’ web development team…


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  • RC
    February 14, 2006

    I can’t really see this applying to churches since they don’t market a good or a service for consumption.
    That seems to be a critical part of the case…if churches begin offering services not available at a building, then maybe…but still, it’s different.
    –RC of strangeculture.blogspot.com


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  • Mark Pryor
    February 14, 2006

    I just don’t get what he thinks gives him the right to demand this. It is the store losing business, not him. Why doesn’t he just take his money and vote by buying somewhere else.


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  • Matt Heerema
    February 15, 2006

    What gives him the right to demand this? Well, according to some, Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This case (if not settled out of court) will set precedent on whether or not he, in fact, has the right to demand this.
    It’s akin to having handicap accessilble bathroom, and wheelchair ramps. (i.e., these things all come from the same legislation)


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  • Carlyle
    February 15, 2006

    Yeah, that’s the thing I can’t easily dismiss (See Matt’s comment above). If Target is already required by ADA law to make their facilities physically accessible to physically handicapped persons, it seems a direct parallel that they would also be required to make their website – in this context a virtual and visual representation of their brand and services – accessible to visually handicapped persons.
    It also seems the same argument would be applicable to churches (see RC’s comment above). My church is in the process of a move to a new facility, and as Director of Communications I’ve been directly involved in the process of generating signage for the new location. We don’t get to hold a single service there until we get our Certificate of Occupancy, and we don’t get that until we are 100% ADA compliant – accesible to all who would cross our threshold.
    So is our website compliant? Not to my knowledge, and that’s something I’ll be looking into changing at my earliest opportunity.
    Of course, I am not required to make my home ADA compliant, so am I therefore exempt from making my personal website accessible to the visually impaired? Where and how is the line actually drawn there, I wonder? Again, I’m probably aguing academics when I add personal websites into the mix, but still…


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  • Bruce Sexton Jr.
    February 17, 2006

    Hi all,
    I am the person you have all been debating about. I have heard some good arguments on both sides. I am sure that as intellegent people we will all begin to formulate our own opinions. My two cents worth is first of all I am able to use this site and it’s very accessible. Secondly I just want to be independent and educate anyone I can on how to make their business more accessible to all so that everyone can enjoy the products offered. Lastly, the organization I am working with and myself have a pretty comprehensive philosophy as to how we determine which fights to fight and which ones are going overboard. If you would like to e-mail me please feel free so long as we can talk it out like adults!


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  • Bruce Sexton Jr.
    February 17, 2006

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  • Matt Heerema
    February 18, 2006

    Wow. Thanks for commenting Bruce.
    Carlyle. Religious organizations are exempt from Title III.
    However, that DOES NOT mean that we should act like we are. The reason Title III is a good thing is because it ensures that people with disabilities are able to access your information or product or service. Something I’m fairly certain your church wants to do.


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