February 8, 2006.
San Francisco Chronicle - CA, USA.
OAKLAND -- A blind UC Berkeley student has filed a class-action lawsuit against Target Corp., saying the retailer is committing civil-rights violations because its Web site is inaccessible to those who cannot see.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Alameda County Superior Court, said the upscale discounter's on-line business, target.com, denies blind Californians equal access to goods and services available to those who can see.
"Target thus excludes the blind from full and equal participation in the growing Internet economy that is increasingly a fundamental part of daily life," said the suit, which seeks to be certified as a class action and alleges violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and various state statutes.
A message left this morning to Target's corporate office in Minneapolis wasn't immediately returned.
Advocates for the blind said the lawsuit is a shot across the bow for retailers, newspapers and others who have Web sites the blind cannot use. They chose Target because of its popularity and because of a large number of complaints by blind patrons.
"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 plaintiff Bruce Sexton Jr., 24, a blind third-year student at UC Berkeley.
Sexton, who is president of the California Association of Blind Students, said making Target's Web site accessible to the blind would also make it more navigable by those without vision problems.
Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore, an advocacy group that's also a plaintiff in the suit, said today that the complaint is based on the theory that online portals of "brick-and-mortar stores," or actual physical places, must be equally accessible.
"Target is one of the biggest companies in the country," Maurer said. "One of the things we're trying to do is change the way this is done."
Blind people access Web sites by using keyboards in conjunction with screen-reading software which vocalizes visual information on a computer screen.
But Target's site lacks "alt-text," an invisible code embedded beneath a graphic on the Web site that a screen reader could use to provide a description of the image to a blind person, the suit said.
Target.com also has inaccessible image maps, the suit said. Image maps, when clicked on by sighted users, allow the patron to jump to other destinations within the Web site. But since Target's site requires the use of a mouse to complete the transaction, it prevents blind people from making purchases online, the suit said.
Some companies, like Wells Fargo Co., have Web sites that are accessible to the blind, said attorney Mazen Basrawi, an attorney with Disability Rights Advocates of Berkeley, which represents the plaintiffs.
In 2003, Wells Fargo was the first financial institution to have its Web site certified by Maurer's group, bank spokesman Chris Hammond said.
But many other Web sites can't be used by the blind, Basrawi said.
Basrawi said the plaintiffs began negotiating with Target after writing the retailer in May 2005. But talks broke down last month, and the company, whom the attorney described as "one of the biggest offenders," declined to modify its Web site.
"Blind people have complained about (Target's Web site) in particular," Basrawi said. "That one's gotten a lot of complaints, especially because it's completely unusable. A blind person cannot make a purchase independently on target.com."
Target has 1,400 stores in 47 states, including 205 in California.
E-mail Henry K. Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source URL: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/02/08/MNGO7H4VBP128.DTL.
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