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What the Target Accessibility Lawsuit Ruling Means to Online Marketers


Last week, Target and the National Federation for the Blind (NFB), came to a settlement over Target’s failure to make it’s retail site, www.target.com, fully accessible to vision impaired users — particularly  people who use screen readers to navigate the world wide web. According to the initial complaint, the biggest problem with the site was its lack of alt-tags for images.

The August 27, 2008 settlement requires Target to not only fix their site, but to also pay a hefty annual monitoring fee as well as $6 million is damages to members of the class action (most likely $1 million to the members, $5 million to the attorneys).

Here’s a summary of the settlement along with some of my editorial . . .

The website will be brought into compliance with the Target 508 Compliance Guidelines (2MB Word Doc) and will be certified by NFB as compliant with these guidelines.

  • Almost everything detailed in the Compliance Guidelines are good practices for any website. If you replace “Target.com” with your company’s website, this Compliance Guidelines provide a great checklist and road map that will not only put you in compliance with Section 508, but will also improve everyone’s usability, positively impact organic search and make site maintenance more efficient. Obviously, the best way to meet these standards is to plan for them at the beginning of your site’s development. If you have an existing site, the effort involved in retrofitting it will vary depending on the shape it’s in but its an effort that ought to be taken in light of this recent settlement.

Target will pay NFB $90,000 for the certification and first year of monitoring and then $40,000 per year thereafter.

  • It costs $90,000 to be certified by the NFB? Even at $200 per hour, that’s 450 hours worth of work.  Sounds like a for-profit scheme to me. The lawyers must be getting a cut of this, too.

Target’s web developers will receive at least one day of accessibility training, to be provided by NFB at a cost of up to $15,000 per session.

  • For an 8-hour day, that comes out to $1,875 per hour — that’s a nice rate. If anyone out there is from Target, contact me — we’ll come to your office and do it for half that, no problem.

Target will pay damages of $6,000,000 to the class action claimants, or at most $7000 per claimant, and will pay $20,000 to the California Center for the Blind on behalf of the primary claimant, Bruce Sexton, Jr.

  • Ouch. This seems like a lot. It must have been intended to send a message. Any smart marketer should be listening (no doubt the smart attorneys are).

Payment of legal fees is yet to be determined.

  • My guess is that it won’t be cheap. I foresee the makings of a cottage industry going after website owners because the blood’s in the water now.

What this means for Marketers.
Obviously, marketers should have their sites analyzed to see what steps, if any, they need to take towards compliance with section 508 — and then begin implementing those changes. Usually there are small things you can do to make a large impact, like adding in good, descriptive alt-tags.

Depending on your site, complete compliance may be more complex and might need to be done in phases. This could include updating all of your input fields on forms or overhauling the page mark-up. Anything you do will help not only move towards compliance, but should also improve overall usability and make your site more effective.

The Target 508 Compliance Guidelines document provides a detailed map as to how Target will be evaluated — and should also be a guide to reviewing your website’s level of accessibility and the steps required to be in compliance.

And, while I’m no attorney, I’ve got to believe that taking positive steps now will help mitigate any potential legal action.

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