Website puts Target in lawsuit crosshairs

Target.com homepage

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: If you want to buy something online, it's pretty basic: You point, you click, done. Not so for some Target shoppers -- which has led to a new class-action suit against the retailer. It claims Target is breaking state and federal laws because its Web site isn't accessible to the blind. Sarah Gardner reports.


SARAH GARDNER: Most of us use the Internet so frequently we don't even think about it -- but the 1.3 million blind people in the U.S. certainly do. They have to buy and install screen-reading software that can translate website text into audio.

AUDIO OF WEB COMMERCIAL: "Are you worried that you're taking the wrong medicine? Your worries are over."

That's the sound of an ad on a commercial Web site that sells visual aids for the sight-impaired. The retailer specially encoded the text so the blind can "hear" about the merchandise it sells -- and then, without using a mouse, make a purchase.

But plaintiffs in this lawsuit say Target.com has failed to do that. And that, they say, is discrimination. John Pare is with the National Federation of the Blind.

JOHN PARE: As an example, the WalMart site we have tested quite thoroughly, and it is accessible. And if WalMart can do it, the question is why can't Target do it?

Pare admits that since the lawsuit was filed last year, Target has tried to make its Web site more accessible -- but he contends it still "has problems." Target didn't return calls by deadline, but it released a statement insisting its Web site is "fully accessible."

The company has argued in court that the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to its brick-and-mortar stores only, not the Internet. Southwest Airlines won a similar lawsuit in 2002 using that argument. But advocates for the blind hope this class-action suit will eventually force all e-tailers to "open their doors to the blind."

If not that, it could certainly open their eyes to a whole new group of potential customers. I'm Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

About the author

Sarah Gardner is a reporter on the Marketplace sustainability desk covering sustainability news spots and features.

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