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FutureNow Article
Thursday, Oct. 4, 2007

“Target” Blind Accessibility to Boost Conversion

By Ronald Patiro
October 4th, 2007

target.jpgA precedent-setting U.S. Federal class action lawsuit ruling has been filed against Target will that would require the click-and-mortar retailer to make its website accessible to the blind and visually impaired. Online enforcement of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) could mean that e-tailers nationwide would have to ensure their sites are accessible to blind visitors, or they’ll leave the door open for another good ol’ American class action suit.

Target had 10 months since the beginning of the court case, and, so far, has refused to make minor changes to their site. The main complaints with Target’s site are as follows:

  • No alt tags on its images for screen readers to tell what an image contains
  • Visitors cannot complete their checkout process without the use of a mouse
  • Lack of descriptive headings to mark separations in a page
  • No explanations for visual maps on the site.

These are simple changes that are fundamentals to web design. In fact, a list of guidelines for creating blind-accessible pages makes recommendations that are very similar to what we at Future Now advocate to increase conversion for all visitors — visually-impaired or not.

  • Use descriptive alt tags
  • Speak in the active voice
  • Be clear and concise
  • Write copy at a 5th grade reading level
  • Avoid jargon
  • Use bulleted lists to break apart key points
  • Use white space effectively
  • Use clear and accurate links that tell the visitor where she is going
  • Use descriptive titles, headings, and headlines
  • Make one key point per page
  • Use the simplest words you can to get your point across (think “Occam’s Razor“)

optimization_hierarchy.jpgIn his ClickZ column, Bryan Eisenberg places accessibility as the second level in the “Heirarchy of Optimization“.

Want to know if your site is accessible? Here’s a list of elements you can use to check if your website is accessible to the blind and visually impaired, and to make sure you’re not the Federal Government’s next Target:

  • Can you enlarge the text on your site and still read it? (press ctrl +)
  • Can you change the color scheme of your browser and still read everything clearly? (This is for people who are dyslexic or colorblind.)
  • Test your web copy for readability (i.e., grade level), as well as the percentage of active-voice sentences.
  • Is it possible to navigate your site without a mouse? If so, can you successfully complete all necessary tasks?
  • Do you have descriptive titles, headings, and headlines?
  • Does your site rely heavily on vague links, like “click here“.
  • Do you describe any image maps (define)?
  • Do you use descriptive alt tags?
  • If you have PDF files, do you have a link to Adobe Access? Most screen readers cannot read PDF files.
  • If you have pages that rely on Flash, Java, or other plug-ins, are there alternate links to plain HTML pages?
  • Run your pages through this tool: webxact.watchfire.com

The Internet has empowered many people to overcome visual limitations. But the Target ruling case raises some great questions. For instance, do you think the Americans With Disabilities Act, which created building accessibility standards, should force websites to do the same?

What do you think? If it’s not already, will you make your site accessible to the blind?

Add Your Comments

Comments (8)

  1. >>A precedent-setting U.S. Federal class action lawsuit ruling against Target will require the click-and-mortar retailer…

    Target has not been required to do anything. I agree with the general sentiment of this post, but let’s be very clear here.

    There has been *no ruling* that requires Target (or anyone else online) to comply with these accessibility rules or other ADA requirements. The only thing that has happened is that a lawsuit has been filed, and the judge has allowed a class of eligible plaintiffs to join the suit (the “class has been certified”).

    As an attorney (thankfully now non-practicing), I must say your post is terribly misleading, in that you seem to indicate more than once that Target lost the case. It has not. The case has not been decided.

    I’m not saying you did this intentionally, but a simple reading of the blog post you link to indicates that the case has only been transitioned from a single-plaintiff case to a class action. No ruling on the merits has happened, and given the speed of justice in California Federal court, no ruling will be happening any time soon.

    Again, I agree with the basic premise of your post related to accessibility standards for websites, and I agree we should all voluntarily do everything feasible, but leading people to believe this is now the law needs to be corrected immediately.

  2. Brian,

    Thank you for that very important correction, and for your insight. We’ve updated the post to reflect it.

    Not sure how that was missed, but the intent of this article is still very relevant, so we’ll keep it live.

  3. Robert- You made the right call on leaving Brian’s comment intact. We screw up. We’re real people. We apologize to our readers. We hope they understand.

    Brian – thanks again, we had no intention to mislead.

  4. According to an article from two years ago, PDFs can be read by all the major screenreaders.

    The issue, and it’s a tricky one, is then making sure that the PDFs are themselves accessible, have the correct formatting, tags, etc. (I’ve tried to do it, and with a sufficiently complex document, it’s a PITA.)

    And it’s alt attributes, not tags. :)

    Sorry to be so pedantic, but I’ve spent a lot of time both reading and doing, so I can’t let it pass!

    Otherwise, it’s a great description of basic accessibility and its importance. I’m really curious to see how this whole Target thing will turn out.

  5. I apologize for the lack of legal clarity when referring to the ‘ruling’ as what actually allowed the case to become a class action suit. Bottom line is that this is a blow to Target in both PR and legal expenses whether the final ruling finds them guilty or innocent. No company should bear the risk of a class action lawsuit for not following very basic design principles.

    The focus of the article is to show what makes a site accessible and that the basic principles of accessibility are all aspects of what we advocate as good practice in making a site convert better for all visitors.

    On Adobe Access, the link provided in the article is to a tool that allows a visitor to enter the URL of a pdf file and convert it to html. Thank you for the input on proper pdf formatting Elaine.

  6. Ron, if Target does lose the case, I hope you get the scoop. But expect to have a lot of competition for the story.

    If Target had already lost, the story would be all over social media news sites, because the implications for the web would be huge. Even if the ruling is limited to e-tailers with brick and mortar presences (as one plaintiff attorney argues), it will still be a significant extension of the ADA outside of the physical world, and it would result in huge amounts of money being spent to fix compliance issues.

    I’d much rather just see voluntary compliance. It’s easy to say “Yeah, I hope Target loses,” but applying existing legislation into new and unanticipated areas always has unintended consequences that can often stifle innovation.

    For example, there’s one perspective that states that what we call Web 2.0 might not have happened (or certainly not as rapidly) because of accessibility issues with the new coding involved (think Ajax). There’s more on that, and a lot of other good insight in this Computer World article about the lawsuit and the surrounding issues.

  7. Ron, of course the global precedent was set over 7 years ago when a blind man successfully sued IBM and the Olympic Organising Committee for the 2000 Olympic Games in Australia. The factors in Target case are almost identical to the IBM/Olympics case. And the Court made pretty much the same conclusions and rulings. As, they say “Those who don’t learn the lessons of history are condemmed to repeat them.” It wasn’t so much that IBM had created a bad site in the first place, but when notified of it, they refused to do anything about it and tried to ignore the issue. This ruling is regarded as setting the legal precedent globally, so I don’t like Target’s chances. Most western countries have laws that make it an offence to discriminate against the disabled, and they also have ecommerce laws that require sites to meet these standards, yet the majority of webdevelopers continue to build websites that breach these laws. The case doesn’t actually change the legal requirements of web developers and site owners, it just highlights something that most of them have been ignorant about for most of this millennium.

    Apart from the legal issues and the bad PR, making accessible sites has two other very compelling reasons in its favour: 1 It makes your site easier for “everybody” and so ultimately increases your conversion rate. 2: It also makes your site more search engine friendly which will increase your search engine performance.

  8. Its funny how we actually forget about those with disabilities, and we have to make sure that web sites are user friendly and it is strange that that site in connection did not allow users to finish with out the use of the mouse. Great post

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