Two cheers for the Target/NFB accessibility settlement

The American National Federation for the Blind brought a class action lawsuit against target.com for inaccessibility of its website (which is, interestingly, “powered by Amazon.com”).

After lots of to-and-fro, news came today that Target have settled, paying $6million into a fund from which those affected by its inaccessiiblity (blind people in California) can claim.

Presumably (I am not a lawyer, but am I gorgeous) this sets a precedent in the USA that many businesses will find unwelcome, but which will presumably lead to more accessible websites.

So why only two cheers?

Well, $6million is lots of money, but given that Target gives away $3million every week “to its local communities through grants and special programs”, it isn’t such a great investment by Target. The terms of the settlement also means that the only people being catered for by this settlement are blind screenreader users:

NFB will run an automated monitoring tool called Worldspace on Target.com every quarter…

Target shall ensure that the Target.com website meets the Target Online Assistive Technology Guidelines, attached as Exhibit C [not on website], and 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.

Upon completion of the changes to Target.com pursuant to Section 6.2 herein, the NFB shall certify the Target.com website through its NFB Nonvisual Accessibility Certification program using the standard techniques and criteria of that program.

NFB will annually report to Target the results of user testing by 5 to 15 blind persons with varying skill levels and using JAWS…

Target shall ensure that complaints received from guests regarding the accessibility of Target.com by those using screen-reader technology are reported to a Target employee responsible for ensuring that Target.com is accessible.

Target shall provide to the NFB a quarterly summary of any complaints received from guests regarding the accessibility or usability of Target.com by those using screen-reader technology…

NFB Nonvisual Accessibility Certification. Upon completion of the changes to Target.com pursuant to Section 6.2 herein, the NFB shall certify the Target.com website through its NFB Nonvisual Accessibility Certification program using the standard techniques and criteria of that program.

I have no idea what the NFB Nonvisual Accessibility Certification program actually entails, but the NFB‘s legitimate remit probably means it’s concerned only with screenreader access:

Working with members of the technology community, the National Federation of the Blind has developed a rigorous procedure by which Web sites and applications that have made special efforts to be accessible to the blind can be identified and recognized.

Accessibility is more than just blind people who use screenreaders. It’s a pity (but it’s understandable) that the NFB didn’t think of other groups with accessibility problems and require development to standards laid down in the internationally-recognised, open WCAG guidelines rather than their own proprietary process.

The danger is that corporations and developers will start developing for the assistive technologies and monitoring tools (machines) rather than people, and that would be a very retrograde step.

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