eCommerce Gets a Wake Up Call

Target Settles Suit for $6 Million

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All the way back in 2006, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that Target could be sued over their site not being accessible to the blind. Now over half way through 2008, Target has reached a settlement with regards to the class action lawsuit that ensued.

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) sued Target, and they settled for $6 million in damages. That’s a lot of money for not including some "alt" tags, which was the  biggest problem with Target’s site. Dave Chartier at Ars Technica explains, "Specifically at issue in Target’s case is a lack of ‘alt’ tags throughout its site, tags which are used by screen reading technology to help disabled users navigate web sites."


As part of the settlement, Target will have to make employees responsible for coding its site attend periodic accessibility training sessions conducted by the NFB. Target has to pay them for this as well.

This case will likely have a large impact on eCommerce as a whole. More lawsuits will probably start coming out of the woodwork. Online retailers will scramble to get their sites within compliance. Accessibility experts will start getting exponentially increased business for their consulting services. The blind will no longer be ignored on the web.

eCommerce Gets a Wake Up Call
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  • Guest

    I’m not sure I agree with this settlement. By all means websites should be encouraged to make their sites as accessible as possible, afterall they’re only increase their potential market, but to blame and then demand a huge payout is wrong.

    So by this ruling, I assume that a person with no fingers (or who lacks feeling in their fingers) can sue the National Federation of the Blind because they cannot touch and thus "read" the NFB’s own publications in braille?


  • http://www.e-commercewebdesign.co.uk Adam – E-commerce Web Design

    I think that if regulators were this fussy, this type of action would be occuring all the time. I’d bet that a very large amount of websites are largely inaccessible but are never picked upon.

  • http://www.jasonpsage.com Jason

    This is a precident that should have never happened! Now – what – how we create web pages can make us liable? This is absurd!

    And as for the person complaining about "alt" being an attribute and not a tag – these kind of benefit no-one comments make people think computer professionals all have thick black rimmed glasses and pocket protectors….


  • Guest

    What’s next – car speedometers that announe the speed?

    Maybe the NFB needs to take cause with the screen readers – why does everything have to conform to everybody?


  • nullPtr

    Last time I checked,  ALT was a manditory attribute of the img tag in the HTML spec.  Perhaps the NFB should have sued Microsoft, Mozilla, and Opera (to name a few) for producing non-standards enforcing browsers.  Perhaps they should have sued the development environments that Target used to product the code for not identifying the code that was produced as non-standards conforming.

    I doubt that had this gone to court, that the NFB would have won.  The reality is that Target settled to save face.  This is one reason people sue big companies.  Target has to consider this a pretty expensive, and coerced donation to Blindness awareness.  Hopefully the money they just shook Target down for goes for actually raising awareness, rather than into the pockets of some pretty happy people down at the NFB.

  • INNMorris

    This has nothing to do with the web site being accessible to the blind. It has to do with the web site conforming to a standard which has been adapted for a product developed to make websites more easily accessible to the blind. My daughter and future son-in-law are both vision impaired and they have no trouble surfing the Target website.

    When lawsuits are filed without reasonable attempts  to resolve the issues before hand, it forces people on the defensive. Instead of people supporting the idea and their cause, it makes them resentful that some group is making people conform to their disposition and causes more stress in the community.

    Could you imagine what would happen if all little people sued to make all store shelves no taller than 3′ 6"? Tall people sued to make all doors and doorways at least 8’? Color-blind people sued to make all traffic and vehicle signals more easily identifiable?

    Use reason people.

    • Guest

       Traffic signals are colored to help the color blind (a little extra blue in the green) and the pattern (red on top, green on bottom in the US) is also to help the color blind.

      Public doorways are in fact generally a bit taller than your home doorway, etc.

      So, actually, we don’t have to imagine ‘what would happen’ if businesses and government had to consider all types of disability.  It’s already happened.  And it hasn’t been all that bad, has it?


  • Guest

    This is absolutely HORRIBLE. Only in America!!! Good Ol USA… Pathetic. If they don’t make the site accessible, shop somewhere else!!! What next, sue a website for not have correct color schemes… This is a horrible joke, and I can’t believe that it was not thrown out of court… Go America, no wonder you are laughed at by so many other countries… add more fuel to the fire.

    • Guest

      Well, Barack.  What’s your stand on this sort of $&!+ ???

      • Guest

        Seriously? Is there any reason for this?

    • Viva La France!

      Finally something to make Americans look stupider than the French!  Free market society my arse!

      I agree.  Shop somewhere else!  The one company that gears all their sales to the blind will get all the money!

      Call it BlindShopping.com!

      Sell clothing like Audible Garanimals!  The blind can now match their clothing by hearing a lions roar, a gorrila chest-pound, a zebras whinny or a giraffes …. ummm …. well let them figure it out. 


      Coming soon!

  • John B

    sorry for the typo – ‘text editors’ should be ‘text readers’ – I hope I’m not sued for the typo…

  • http://www.dreamsreborn.com Don

    I am legally blind, but do not use screen readrs (I use  a screen enlarging program instead). But I know lots of completely blind people who do use screen readers. And with something as simple as an alt attribute, you can make a website a LOT more usble fo a person using a screen reader.

    Why didn’t Taget take care of this when it was first broght to their attention? I think most lawsiuts are to get attention, not malicisous or whimsical.

    I was glad tosee tha this blog used a math cpatcha–I often have to enter captach text six or eight times,and sometimes never get it. And those sites that use audio alternatives don’t really heop; the audio os as garbled as the text.

    Someone mentioned legistlating color schemes next. Actually, that IS part of the accessiblity standards. I hate it when a site has text and background clors that make it impossible for me to read the site (this is not an issue for those using screen readrs).

    Come on, accessiblity compliance is not that hard. Why NOT tae a little extra effor to do ti? Excuse the typos–spell checkers are another thing most visually impired people have a lot oftrouble with.I saw one in the preview but can’t find it to correct it. ;-)

    • Guest

      <math cpatcha>

      and for those who are mathematically challenged or dyslexic?
      Disability groups are now getting to the point of stupidity with their demands, even had certain quarters in the deaf community demanding deaf children are not given cochlea implants as it discriminates against them by reducing the number of deaf people in their community (I kid you not).
      Society should do what is reasonable to help all disadvantaged groups. However often the results are very misguided and only serve to alienate, as in this case – lot better to have said we have 10,000 potential  customer  who would like to buy  your products, that would get any CEO’s mouth watering!


  • Daniel Morin

    One should read "The Law" by Frederic Bastiat to understand how the law is often used as a tool for legal plunder.

  • andrew

    My first concern was that all the online applications my company builds will be subject to scrutiny of this nature. So I consulted my legal department…

    There is no admission of guilt and no ruling. Target likely settled because of PR and negative image control. Since there was no ruling, there is no "precedent". Any future claims will still have to go to court until there is a ruling, then appeals.

    So, any worries should solely be regarding your companies image and what can a rights group do to sully that image. If you have a policy to "do no evil", and are willing to work with these groups you should be fine. Otherwise, should a lawsuit be leveraged, you may find a more sympathetic judge then target did.

    And it still comes back to perception. Would being involved in a very public lawsuit with a rights group cause more damage then spending the millions to comply with their requests? Target decided yes. Other companies may feel differently.

    As an uncle of a child with Downs I appreciate all efforts to assist differently abled people. However, this doesn’t establish anything other than Targets willingness to spend $6 million plus development costs  to aid the blind.

  • OMFG

    WTF!  OMFG!

    I have had it with the legal system.  If you can’t beat them then join them. 

    Lawyers of America UNITE!  Let us all sue every retail company for not having brail labels!

    I want brail price tags at every grocery store and every retail store!

    I want brail menus at every food chain!

    Where are the brail MSRP papers for a new car?  Especially Cadillac or European automakers because I will own a limo from them afterward!  I may not be able to drive, but I will have enough money to buy the damn cars!


    Call my law firm if you want to be a part of this … it is Frick, Ulff, Clott & Kant!  We want any and all lawyers that want to be a part of this to join in and we can get the clients later!  Also … make sure that your company is blind accessible and all documents are written in brail … we don’t want to get sued by some common shmoe that just figured out we could get sued for the same things we are suing Target and others for ….

    OMFG!  WTF!

    • Ikke

      You meant Braille? As in Louis Braille…

  • Guest

    We have whats called a "Stupid Law" that prevents people from suing about stupid things, waisting the courts time for more important things. Ooops, I just spilt my cold cup of coffee in my lap. I better find someone to sue…

  • http://www.swankigifts.com articles and gifts

    Great article Chirs, way to keep everyone informed on topical news.

  • A Happy Canarian

    First note,

    blindshopping.com EXISTS!!.. Given, it has practically no use to the Legally Blind (Unless of course, you are venetian.)

    This has to be a typical example of what lawsuits are becoming, the madness has spread from the US, over the Atlantic and into the UK, some say even Germany suffers from this plague of company-disintegrating locusts.

    Real Lawyers have a consistent black mark against their name because of the ambulance chasers of (the fictional) Frick, Ulff, Clott & Kant (thank you, "OMFG") and their real world equivalents.

    I’m not a Lawyer, nor am I legally (or otherwise) blind. I do However live in a society where this type of Lawsuit would be immediately thrown out of court and a charge made against the Plaintiff for an innumerable waste of official’s time.

    If you fall over in the street, If you fall off of a stool in a bar, if you walk out into the road without looking and get run over by a rogue deer crossing. Then start LOOKING where you are going, use the common sense that was generously integrated into your conciousness by God/Evolution/Aliens. And DO NOT attempt to sue said divine entity for not giving you enough……

    Live life to the full. If not, the saying "One Third of your life is spent in bed." will soon become "One Third of your life is spent in Bed, One Third in Court and One third looking for things to sue for."

    A Happy Canarian with unsmooth Sidewalks.


  • http://www.meanseo.com Chris Hibbard


    It costs nothing to make a web site right in the first place and with a little effort you can dramatically increase your audience and customer base as well as make everyone users experience on your site better and oh yea – probably get better SE rankings.

    Shame on some of you for the ridiculously callous and immature statements. Wait until you get older or watch one of your relatives or dear friends become or be born with a handicap.

    In case you don’t know almost 10% of the US male population has some for of color blindness. Did you take that into account when you built you sites and your clients’ sites?

    How interesting it will be if one of your clients gets sued for this and in turn they sue you for negligence considering this issue has be common knowledge for many years.

    Any web master who has any responsibility toward their customers best interest and social responsibility would have been building sites with this in mind for years.

    Building a web site that is not accessible is pathetic given that fact there is virtually no extra cost or time involved and will only potentially get you more paying customers.

    I am ashamed to be associated with some of you given these comments.

  • I cna’t stand idiocy

    As a business owner I have rights. One of those rights is to target my wares to a specific demographic.

    I would suggest that if I wanted to sell clothing, I would target customers both online and in store, however, I would not waste valuable marketing dollars trying to display my wares online to someone who cannot see. How could they possibly make a proper choice unless my alt tags were miles long? Even if they were, I cannot guarantee to be able to make my product descriptions completely understood by each individual with their own interpretive capabilities. At least in store merchandise can be touched (although this still does not fix blind people’s physical deficienies).

    I wonder if anyone has thought of suing the NFB for not having a total cure for blindness as I am certain, enough money has been raised over the years to invest in coming up with a cure. Sounds like a ridiculous statement, doesn’t it ?  Of course it is. Remember, no guarantees. That said, the lawsuit and the settlement are just as ridiculous.

    I guess the same could be said about cancer and the organizations making excessive dollars off of it as well.

    I believe rights should be honored in a reasonable way, provided they do not completely detract from the rights of others. After all, who has more right than the next person and why should their rights be more or less important. Compromise is a good thing, but one would have to logically consider the value of the result along with the cost and it’s necessity.

    What problems we create for each other in this world !  Want a little extra cash? Don’t try to make unreasonable claims in an effort to steal it from someone who has worked for it. And yes, people with physical disabilities can argue accessibility all they want. What about arguing that people of average intelligence not having that great job available to them because they are incapable of the intellect required to properly perform the job duties? Is that smart peoples’ fault too?

    Wake up and smell the coffee people ! ( I know you can as it has been proven that sense of smell is heightened with vision impairment). That’s not fair to me by the way; I cannot smell that threat of poisonous gas coming at me as quickly as you can. Should I sue you? After all, my access is impaired moreso than yours.

    One more thing. People with little extra cash to spend on the things they want cannot even buy certain merchandise. The high price makes it inaccessible to them. Maybe all the financially impaired poeple should hire that law firm listed in other posts (pro-bono of course) in an effort to form a class action suit against any product being more than a dollar !

    Economics, intelligence, strength, demographics, etc etc etc…… All factors of REALITY. Get out your crying towels everyone because all of your tears need to be collected for the greater good of the lawyers (and to strengthen our ability to be stupid)  I can’t stand idiocy !

    What a bunch of leeches!

  • http://www.cavalcade-of-coding.info Adrienne Boswell

    This is really not that hard. It’s very simple, the alt attribute is required for the img element according to the W3C spec and the ISO spec.  This is not an optional attribute, it is required.  If the image is purely for decoration, say a logo, bullet, horizonal rule, etc, there is no need to fill in the value of the attribute, it just remains empty, eg. alt="".

    Companies with large IT budgets can afford to pay a professional developer.  This is not the same as a Mom and Pop store that hires a nephew and pays him in pizza and soda pop.  A professional should already know the specs, or at least the majority.  If you are paying for a new car, you expect it to work, and for it to have passed tests – you do not expect the manufacturer to have sold you a broken car.  Same thing here – you pay a lot of money for a professional developer, you do not expect a broken web site – and a site is broken if it does not comform with the specs.

    Yes, most browsers work without the alt attribute, but then define "works".  Does it "work" for someone using a screen reader when the required attribute is missing? No.  Does it work when the web site uses images for navigation and the user is on a slow line, and does not see the navigation images until the entire site has downloaded? No.  Or, if images are being blocked (many email clients, espcially web based, block third party images), and those images are necessary, does it work? No.

    A long time ago in the United States, seat belts were not required.  If everyone drove carefully, and weather permittings, nothing happened. That "worked" for some people, but, not everyone drives carefully, and the weather is not always accomodating.  Now we have seat belt laws, and in the majority of states, we have cell phone laws as well.  This is a Good Thing.

    The alt attribute is simple, and requiring it in the img element makes sites work for everyone.  It’s that simple.


  • http://www.dualartsculptures.com/ H Brown

    I’m worried that I make dual art sculptures intended to be viewed with the eyes.  My sculptures are in no way compatible with blind people’s eyes.  They create an image indecipherable to the human sense of touch with countless odd angles.  Perhaps I’ll be sued?  My only consolation is the theory that you can’t get blood from a turnip.

    • http://www.accessiblesmokies.com Chris Hibbard

      Blind people buy scultures. They don’t buy many paintings.

      A person with a visual hadicap can concieve more about spacial objects than your small shallow mind can with both eyes open.

      I hope that everyones customers read your posts.  See how much blood is then left in some of your turnups.

      The main issue for the blind was using graphics for navigation with no tagging.

      I suggest that you serious webmasters load reader software into your computer so you can experiance what up to 10,000,000 people in the USA alone would. That’s right 10 million in the US alone are legally blind.





  • jameo

    Do guns for sale in stores carry braile labeling?

  • http://www.verdicts.co.uk Mat B

    I don’t know about anyone else, but the sites i build these days use CSS background-images for any kind of navigation, so as to get the best of both worlds (nice looking buttons with search engine readable text).  Therefore, the only html images i’d expect to see on one of my sites would be a single product image, which always has appropriate H1 tags for a title.  Surely by the time the screen reader gets to said product image, the blind user should be aware of the page content already?  If not, then the screen reader software needs some improvement!

    I dont know of anyone these days who uses an excessive number of html images on their pages, or certainly not enough to hinder a screen reader!

    What would I put in my alt attributes, that hasn’t already been covered in more detail on the page?  I do use Alt tags anyway, as it happens, but not with the blind in mind (well, google i suppose!).

    I would ask "what is the world coming to" but the world came a long time ago when Mcdonalds was sued for making someone obese.

  • http://www.verdicts.co.uk Mat B

    I couldn’t resist this one:

    So should art galleries display a braille footnote for each piece of art, explaining what the picture is about?  Otherwise, how could the blind possibly enjoy "looking" at the artwork?

  • PM

    I have been eating fast food and candy for the last five years and my exercise is limited to walking from the couch to the fridge. Now I am fat…ridiculously fat. The problem is that my fingers are too fat for my computer keyboards. I think computer makers should have to accommodate my disability by making keyboards with three-inch-diameter keys. (I’m typing on one of these big keyboard now…when I try to type on a regular keyboard it looks like this…dsfjskljgkjgdjgkl). Now that is just not fair. This is America. It is the responsibility of others to make my life easier. Otherwise I get to sue them. Right?!

  • http://www.shoutposters.com colin

    Thats a joke, shouldn’t they be asking them to overhall their site, or figuring out a solution. NO they just after the cash!


  • Mike

    Why not sue the computer manufacturers for not inventing a text to braille converting machine? How rediculous! OMG if I’m blind I’ll suffer massive damages if I can’t shop at target!!! They would rather sue than have someone help them read a page. It’s not about change it is about M O N E Y. Now don’t get me wrong accessability for the disabled IS an important issue. Yes some of my customers are blind, and my recording studio is accessible to them and I have plenty of alt tags. But instead of protecting real victims who suffer REAL damages our courts get clogged with this *^&%&**! My mother was just swindled out of $7000.00 and I, with power of attorney cannot get justice for her fast enough. And then we have this??! There are plenty of workable solutions to this, and a proper suit would have been to force change through negotiation. Not a six million dollar payout. It’s not worth doing business in this country anymore.

  • Stephen Pickett

    Wow, the ignorance displayed by the users of this site (most of those commenting) really is astounding!

  • http://www.lvrealty.net Charles Richey

    I don’t think they should have to pay a nickel. I think at most, they should fix the site. If they don’t want to make more money by making their site usable by more people…. Personally I would want my site to be user friendly to as many surfers as possible, regardless.

  • http://www1.celebros.com/Default.asp?sType=0&PageId=5762&MH=3 Casey

    E-Commerce businesses are growing fast and more people are heading online to do their shopping & research. I think it’s important that everyone has the ability and opportunity available to them to do so. I don’t agree to the suing part but it definitely sends a message out to all websites to add this to their website usability checklist.

    • http://www.trade-lingerie.com/superstore WHOLESALE COSTUMES

      i agree that the e-commerce business is growing very fast but there so many scams that people need to look out for like ecommerce sites forsale at really low prices one of the biggest markets is wholesale costumes and lingerie

  • http://www.digitizeit.com Guest

    Why stop at the missing alt tags for the blind?  I say that every rich man in this country sues Walmart for their prices being too cheap.  I’ll sue Mcdonalds cuz my wife got fat from their Big Macs.  Lets sue every musician in this country because the deaf people cant hear them.  Or what about suing CompUsa for not properly training me on how to use my computer?  We can sue the perfume manufacturers because those without the sense of smell can’t enjoy the aroma.  Lets Sue Mercedes Benz because I can’t afford their cars on my meager salary.  We should sue the NFL for not letting me play quarterback.  Or we should sue Calvin Klein because they didn’t make me their jeans model this year.  Hell, let’s sue the US Government because we can’t all be president. 

    This is just another classic example of the socialist disease that has crept into our American way of life.  Doesn’t anyone in this country remember what freedom is?  Oh yea I forgot, we were too busy feeling left out or inferior.  The American people have gone soft, and we’ll suffer the consequences in a big way.  Any person who is defending the NFB shoud have their head examined, And then we can sue the hospital because they didn’t make the x-rays in braille.    Wow, I’m sacred for our future. 

    • Guest

      I completely agree with the previous "Guest" on 09/02/08 at 2:24 pm; why not sue airlines and factories for polluting the air we breathe?  It all boils down to the simplest, and slightly cliche, denominator:  You can’t please all the people all the time.  To others out there – I am truly sorry, and can only empathize, that you’re blind.  But personally, I’ve been giggling ever since I saw braille at the drive up ATM.  Limitations are limitations.  Let’s not exaggerate.

  • Guest

    I hope Target pays it in online gift certificates.

    Clearly this demonstrates the need for even more legislation.  We’re going to need some laws about how to tell us how to create a ADA conforming alt tag.  And probably navigation menus and font types.  It’s a wonder there are any companies headquartered in the US anymore.

    And for the color blind comments, the blue isn’t added to the green in the stoplight to help us colorblind people, it’s to prevent us from running you over.

  • http://donscycleware.com Don

    I sell motorcycle gear. My site isn’t readable by the blind. I wonder how long it will be before they come after me? Hopefully they will go after Harley Davidson for not building a motorcycle for the blind first.

    What in the hell is an alt tag?

    Does WEb Pro News have the correct coding to prevent a lawsuit from  the NFB ?

    If I’m too lame to solve the CAPTHA math questions who should I sue ?

  • Stephen Olner

    Does that mean we have to ditch the latest technology in Flash and Silverlight because there are no alt tags? I can see allot of companies having to provide another website. Let’s see, different sites for different resolutions, different mobile phones and now one for the visual challenged. Someone’s getting rich someplace !

  • Guest

    If the NFB was turly interested in making Target accessible and not in blackmail, then they could have helped them make the site accessible in a few days, but their agenda along with the Trial Lawyers and the California District court is several fold. 

    One, they hate capitalists as a whole, they have no problem stealing and blackmailing the stock holders, the employees and the cusomers of Target, which is what they just did.

    The ADA meant well but after attending the Trial Lawyers Association meeting on it, they saw it as just a lever to shake down well meaning companies legally.

    None of the above parties were truly interested in helping Blind people or other with disabilites as a whole.  If so, they would have initiitives to be coming up with specific solutions for companies to help be in compliance rather than doing what they did. i.e. black mailing them just to get money or given them a chance to fix it.

    This was just a plain theft in the name of a good cause.  And you wonder why companies are moving out of California and America as a whole……

    I don’t…..



  • Clay

    In a perfect world, websites should be accessible to blind people.

    However, this extra work does cost money and companies should not be forced to do so. For a site with 10 pages this would be a small task, but for a large site it could be months of work.

    For those who commented that it is easy and free, I’d like you to do the work on my websites for free. I’ll even share the profits on the sales I make to blind people, but if you mess up – I’LL SUE YOUR ASS!!

  • Harry Loots

    I am astounded at the ignorance and selfish attitude of some of the half-witted respondents to this issue. Since when should blind people, or people with any disability be denied access to services on the internet. Because that’s what you are suggesting by taking a stand against alt text or other remedial actions which would enable people with disabilities to use the web in the samw way you do. Forget about pollution and otehr excuses. This is about all people having the same rights. And what harm does it cause you to have braille on your drive-in ATM. Who says bloind people wont use that? They can sit in cars, and if they can sit in cars, they can get to the drive-in ATM. As to should you be sued for not providing alt text, or making your website or for that matter, any product usable by people with disabilities. Yes! Yes, please God! Punish these selfish, arrogant, ignoramuses! Make them pay for their attitude to others who would benefit from these very small changes.

  • http://www.cellweb.co.uk/ecommerce.html mike allen

    Having just read this – this is the sort of judgement that happens in the UK. Surely it should be down to the web designer. And I should add that any web designer that wants to appeal to all visitors should do something to allow every person to ‘view or read ‘ the content. If you are selling something then these maybe potential customers willing to spend their hard earned dollars on your products. Ignore people at your peril.

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