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Target.com Faces Class Action Suit Over Accessibility

Target's tussle with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) over blind accessibility to Target.com just got tougher.

A federal district court judge in California yesterday certified an NFB lawsuit against Target as class-action. The suit charges Target with violating federal and California statutes by failing and refusing to make its Target.com accessible to the blind.

Target officials downplayed the suit's elevation to class-action status.

"We are disappointed that a class has been certified," a Target spokesperson told InternetNews.com in an e-mail. "Class certification is a procedural ruling only and in no way addresses the merit of the claims brought forward by the National Federation of the Blind."

Federal District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel also ruled yesterday that both the American Disability Act (ADA) and California's Unruh Civil Rights Act required Target.com to be accessible to the blind.

That's a significant development because Target.com only falls under the ADA because its a service of a bricks-and-mortar store, while California's Unruh Civil Rights Act applies to services provided by any and all e-commerce retailers, according to the plaintiffs' lawyer, Daniel F. Goldstein.

Added NFB President Marc Maurer in a statement, "This is a tremendous step forward for blind people throughout the country who for too long have been denied equal access to the Internet economy."

"All e-commerce businesses should take note of this decision and immediately take steps to open their doors to the blind," he said

Those steps, NFB spokesman Chris Danielsen told InternetNews.com, should include ensuring all site graphics are labeled for the text-to-speech screen readers used by blind Web surfers, offering audio alternatives to visual CAPTCHAs and otherwise ensuring that everything on the site accessible by a mouse can be accessed by a keyboard.

Target, meanwhile, contends it already does all this and more.

"We believe that our Web site is fully accessible and complies with all applicable laws," a spokesperson said. "As our online business has evolved, we have made significant enhancements to improve the experience of our guests who use assistive [sic] technologies."

To prove their point, Target cites an internal NFB e-mail from Chris Danielsen.

In a copy of the e-mail obtained by InternetNews.com, dated Dec. 2, 2006 and addressed to NFB Executive Director for Strategic Initiatives James Gashel, Danielsen writes that "I wouldn't have believed it, but they have indeed made some rather drastic improvements."

"I was able to purchase a compact disk, completing the checkout process with no major problems," Danielsen wrote.

Goldstein, lawyer for the NFB did not deny the e-mail's validity. But he said Target made those improvements only after the NFB filed suit.

Besides, he added, their improvements are not good enough.

"It's like going from an F to a C+, but the C+ ain't an A," Goldstein told InternetNews.com.

As for what's next, Target said it plans to request an immediate review of the ruling granting class certification, and added that it would continue to implement new technologies to enhance its Web site usability.