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Should Online Stores Be Subject To ADA? 546

Posted by kdawson
from the accessibility-rising dept.
prostoalex writes, "HTML tutorials usually mention alt tags for images and noscript tags as something optional that a Web designer should add to a site for the crawlers and users browsing with graphics or JavaScript turned off. However, a recent lawsuit against Target by the National Federation of the Blind accuses the retailer of not complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Since Target's online store is unbrowsable with a screen reader, the nation's 200,000 blind people who go online cannot become paying customers, the NFB contends. From the article: 'In denying Target's motion to dismiss the suit two months ago, Judge Marilyn Hall Patel... held that the law's accessibility requirements applied to all services offered by a place of public accommodation. Since Target's physical stores are places of public accommodation, the ruling said, its online store must also be accessible or the company must offer equally effective alternatives.' Does the judge's name ring a bell? Yes, it's the same Marilyn Hall Patel who handled the RIAA's case against Napster in 2001." Web builders and tools may need to start brushing up on the Web Accessibility Initiative.
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Should Online Stores Be Subject To ADA?

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  • About Time! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by overshoot (39700) on Monday November 06, 2006 @01:19PM (#16738075)
    Maybe finally we can put a stake through the never-to-be-sufficiently-damned Flash-only sites.
    • It's got my vote. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by krell (896769) on Monday November 06, 2006 @01:37PM (#16738385) Journal
      If it ends up banning flash from being a part of web site's UI, it's got my vote.
    • Re:About Time! (Score:5, Informative)

      by Phil John (576633) <{moc.dtlsratsbew} {ta} {lihp}> on Monday November 06, 2006 @01:52PM (#16738645)
      It's a common misonception that flash ins't accessible, the latest versions are very much so. JK Rowlings new site is meant to be a good example of this.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Flash is fundamentally inaccessible given that you MUST have the plug-in to get the content. If you have the plug-in, then Flash can be quite accessible. If you don't, then it's absolutely inaccessible. That's why JK Rowling's site has text-only alternatives.
    • by jimicus (737525)
      Flash can actually be sensibly used and have full support for screenreaders, magnifiers and other aids for people with disabilities. Think of it as a full-blown object oriented programming language for graphically heavy applications.

      It's just that 99 times out of 100 it's used for pointless little animations or as a substitute for actually trying to write some proper f'ing HTML which renders sensibly. It's a case of the many giving the few a bad name.
  • by b0s0z0ku (752509) on Monday November 06, 2006 @01:22PM (#16738121)
    Plain old HTML sites are a lot faster than the newer Flash-y sites with the latest doodads. Examples of well-designed sites (get the job done with a good, fast interface while managing to look good) are Google, LiveJournal, and Craigslist. All of which I can use with Lynx should the desire strike me.

    -b.

    • Plain old HTML sites are a lot faster than the newer Flash-y sites with the latest doodads.

      Yet GMail is faster than SquirrelMail. By your logic, that shouldn't be the case. SquirrelMail is simpler, has less dynamic components, and is more compatible with accessibility standards. Why is it slower?
      • by b0s0z0ku (752509)
        SquirrelMail is simpler, has less dynamic components, and is more compatible with accessibility standards. Why is it slower?

        Are we running it on comparable servers, first of all? Google has a lot of 'puter power at its fingertips. Also, one may be more efficient with local caching than the other. Who knows?

        -b.

        • I've seen three implementations of SquirrelMail, all slower than GMail. I administered one which was on a beefy server and, at the time, was only serving up 10 people (it was a test server before we rolled it out in place of the old solution). It was slower than GMail by a noticable amount.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by AKAImBatman (238306) *

          Are we running it on comparable servers, first of all?

          You can assume comparible servers, and GMail will still win every time. In fact, any webmail provider using a "classic" webmail design is likely to show up slower than GMail, even if you assume the same hardware and bandwidth.

          The difference is that all that AJAXian voodoo is actually doing something more than making everything look pretty. It's responsible for transferring only the information necessary to update the display. Nothing more, nothing less.

    • by k12linux (627320)
      I agree.

      Target's site was (is) crappy IMHO. Anyone who has used it via dial-up should agree. I timed it and it took almost 5 minutes to log in and get to your account summar (first screen after logging in.) Watching logs and wireshark showed that the majority of that time was huge javascript downloads followed by image downloads. I often browsed with images turned off when using dial-up but that's not possible on Target's site. If you have images turned off then login fails. (WTF?)

      I personally have no
  • by HaeMaker (221642)
    ...was also the second Judge for US v. Microsoft.
  • Not to sound insensitive to those with disabilities, but why not simply let the market push the matter? If companies want to attract a certain type of customer then they do what's necessary to attract those customers including marketing their products to those customers and making the purchase process as easy as possible for that customer. Wouldn't the market sort this out if it were left alone?
    • "Not to sound insensitive to those with disabilities, but why not simply let the market push the matter?"

      Just like the market solved Jim Crow. No intervention by the government necessary at all.
    • Because the disabled are too small a minority to perform a significant market push.
    • Re:Market (Score:4, Insightful)

      by DoorFrame (22108) on Monday November 06, 2006 @01:31PM (#16738281) Homepage
      Congress decided the market wasn't working with respect to the handicapped. The costs were too high and the benefits accrued to too few individuals to make it worthwhile for most organizations to retrofit for handicapped accessibility. So, of course, nobody did.

      If you don't care that people with wheelchairs can't get to the second floor of the Gap sometimes, then this is fine. If you do care, then it's not. Sort of a personal judgment call on how you feel about government intervention to protect the less fortunate.

      Regardless of how I might feel about forcing retrofits (not a big fan), setting standards before establishments are built seems somewhat reasonable (and it's usually not all that expensive if you plan on doing it from the beginning). Having rules established ahead of time is basically the same as having building codes, and just as onerous.

      With regard to the ADA and websites, it seems that the internet is not at all what was envisioned when the ADA was drafted and it should be looked at anew. If you want to set rules for website design, it has to be clear what those rules are going to be before design begins. Forcing major sites to redesign after they're established seems mean spirited and expensive. If this is something that people feel strongly about, they can go back to Congress and draft an amendment. Courts are probably wise to stay out of the way until then.
      • by krlynch (158571)
        Forcing major sites to redesign after they're established seems mean spirited and expensive.

        I'm not a lawyer of course, but perhaps there is a parallel with the requirements for bringing buildings into compliance that applies here. I believe the ADA requires that a building complies if they are "places of public accomodation", and are either new or undergoing major renovation work. On the web, most "major sites" undergo major renovation work fairly regularly, with new look and feel, or new functionality.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by macdaddy (38372)
        I see your point on the retrofit vs building from anew. Still I don't think I could justify forcing every website that sells something to be ADA compliant (or some other standard). I run an ISP in rural America. I can think of literally hundreds of Ma & Pa businesses that sell something crafty that has a small website for displaying pictures of their wares. What possible justification could I provide them as to why they're required to make their website ADA compliant. They use whatever generic webs
    • If companies want to attract a certain type of customer then they do what's necessary to attract those customers including marketing their products to those customers and making the purchase process as easy as possible for that customer. Wouldn't the market sort this out if it were left alone?

      And this simply does not work for quite a few reasons. The most prominent ones are:

      - Too few customers with a specific handicap to make this attractive for virtually any shop (except for a few highly specialized ones).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by l2718 (514756)
      Leaving the "market" to achieve a social goal relies on two assumptions:
      1. There is a market in the first place (i.e. competition).
      2. The economic valuation is similar to the social one.

      In this case there certainly is a market, but it leads to results we don't like. The problem is that the extra profits gained from selling to a small minority (the disabled) are probably much less than the expenses in accomodating them. Therefore it is rational for most retailers to simply ignore the disabled. Of course t

    • Not to sound insensitive to those with disabilities

      Bad luck, 'cos you did. Why should e.g. a blind person not be able to use e.g. Amazon? (picked at random but the regulations must apply to every seller) I mean, would you crow about the market if a shop decided to spend some money installing a wheelchair ramp? Or would you inisist that the physically-disabled open their own shop at ground level?

      In the UK, we had a similar Act [wikipedia.org] introduced last year. Everyone just got on with the necessary work ahead of time

  • No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shados (741919) on Monday November 06, 2006 @01:25PM (#16738165)
    The accessibilities regulation when it comes to web sites have the same issues a LOT of things have when it comes to the web: They imply that the web is nothing more than a variant of a PDF browser. It doesn't consider that HTML/CSS were very poorly designed, that we have to deal with IE6 (even though IE7 came out), that the web already requires 10 bazillion skills, and if you need experts in every categories to do anything, a lot of companies will have to retire from the field, that a lot of the content is beyond the developer's control, etc etc etc.

    The only thing one should require is to stick a div tag with CSS to make it invisible at the very very top of the site, that says "If you are a disabled person using a screen reader to navigate this page, and wishes to make a purchase, dial the following number and talk with one of our friendly representative who will be happy to help you, and give you any web-only discounts you deserve".

    Otherwise, if you ever thought IE6 was holding the web back, never freagin mind screen readers. If your page is nothing more than documents with information, and maybe 1 form (which I guess a lot of e-commerce stores are), then go ahead and make it accessible. Its not very rough. But depending on your target audience, it very well might be a desktop-like application with all the wiz and buzz that it implies, and there's simply no way to make that accessible without ruinning your normal user's experience. And if you DO manage to make it accessible, it will be in the terms of the law only: it will still be useless a to a blind person. Those laws are out of date, simple as that: they consider the web as being nothing more than a giant e-book. It doesn't work like that anymore.
    • The only thing one should require is to stick a div tag with CSS to make it invisible at the very very top of the site, that says "If you are a disabled person using a screen reader to navigate this page, and wishes to make a purchase, dial the following number and talk with one of our friendly representative who will be happy to help you, and give you any web-only discounts you deserve".

      The ADA is overall a good law that has served a good purpose. But in this case, this is all Target should need to do - p
  • 200,000 people out of 300 million is too small a population for national retailers to care about, economically. But besides the legal incentives there is an economic incentive to following the WAI guidelines. Better accessibility also means more useful info for search engines and other applications. Alt tags help SEO and scrapers, for example. Target should be able to increase their site's overall effectiveness by working to make their site usable for the blind. When companies realize this they end up
    • by Shados (741919)
      The problem here is that maybe, right now, target doesn't want to allocate their ressources to their web development. Maybe they have limited ressources, and don't have time to hire more in that department, or their IT staff doesn't have time to train a newcomer, or something. So maybe (probably, actualy) they don't even care about -normal- customers visiting their web site. From looking at it, I'd say thats the case.

      There is no one forcing them to care about normal customers. So they don't. But because t
    • And how about the entire population of baby boomers as they age and start having their eyesight detoriate? Designing for accessibility helps more than just those traditionally thought of as handicapped - it's also helpful for the elderly and people on different browser types than what you design for (say a Linux box without their ActiveX plugins, or a cell phone/PDA without flash).
  • Webmasters should be able to cater to whomever they choose. Should Target be against making their website accessable I have a great solution for the blind, visit the retail outlet, or a competitor. Maybe webmasters should make their sites accessable to people that are unable to read as well....
  • Online stores are undoubtedly a public accomodation, and the accomodation necessary to allow the blind to use the site is very reasonable, assuming that the original web deisgners weren't completely retarded when the designed the site. Simply create an HTML-only version and use alt-tags. Since you're designing it for the blind, it doesn't even have to look good, it just has to contain all the same relevant information that the standard page does.
    • Unequivocally, yes? Well lets see...I sell photographs [ronfphoto.com]. Nothing at all but photographs. How do you think a blind person might pick out one of my photographs to buy, and how would you suggest I accomodate them?

      And here's an interest followup. My online store uses ajax. Now granted, my implementation has complete no-javascript, fallback support, but not all ajax websites do, and in some cases I'd say a fallback option isn't very feasible. How do screen readers cope with ajax websites?
  • by Chairboy (88841)
    Flash-only sites are crap, and a blight on the internet, yes. But how often have problems been really SOLVED by adding new laws?

    Let market forces work it out. These companies will lose business because of the accessibility problems, and probably also because of unfriendly interfaces. Money talks to business far better than lawmakers, and it's a language they can speak that doesn't require translators.

    The ADA is one of those "nice intentions" laws that, for every wheel-chair ramp added to a school has 20+
    • by krell (896769)
      "Flash-only sites are crap, and a blight on the internet, yes. But how often have problems been really SOLVED by adding new laws?"

      Yeah, we all know how the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made discrimination problems worse. And who needed that Emancipation Proclamation anyway? Unnecessary government intervention in private market matters.
    • by Dunbal (464142)
      Let market forces work it out.

      Nope. Here I have to disagree. Disabled people are a miniscule portion of the market and if we leave it to market forces alone, their interests will never, ever be served. Handicapped parking, bathrooms, ramps, elevators, braille plaques, etc are simply not economically feasible in any business. The only reason businesses do it is because they are obliged to via building codes, etc.

      However believe you me these relatively small but unp
    • I live in Sweden and we have laws about making services accessible too, but not as sharp as ADA. Guess what, disabled over here have lots of examples of companies and government agencies not complying with the law. The US is often pointed out as a good example when it comes to working legislation for the disabled.
  • This sounds reasonable especially since Target is such a big retailer. It doesn't require too much effort either since Target could just provide an alternate "face" for the text readers.
  • It's unreasonable for all the people of the US, through our government, to install disabled-accessible architecture at physical stores. But it's perfectly reasonable for our government to offer free architectural diagrams and plans for stores to build their own.

    Likewise, if our government is going to require websites to comply with ADA, our government should offer free software and validation testing for easy compliance. That's a lot more cost-effective (and just effective) than spending time and money forc
  • Making an online store a public place isn't really that far of a leap. It will be interesting to see how retailers react to this. Perhaps we'll see seperate pages now for the regular surfer vs. the blind surfers.
    It would seem to me that the disabled, blind or otherwise would be more prone to use internet services to begin with. The fact that retailers haven't seen this and adapted already is interesting into itself.
    • by Dunbal (464142)
      Perhaps we'll see seperate pages now for the regular surfer vs. the blind surfers.

            That would be nice. I mean, I don't really expect a lot of flash animation on pages for the blind - do you? I think I'll choose the "blind" pages on purpose...
  • Suing a website for their design of their website...not even the content, the design. I thought handicapped people wanted to be treated equally? I'm all for accessibility, one never knows when one may be come handicapped themselves. But this is really going overboard.
  • I wonder if there is a parallel to be drawn between accessibility concerns and perhaps multi-language sites? If your country of origin (and of hosting?) has bilingualism laws are they a template to establish the same/similar laws for accessibility?

    To my knowledge the PQ in Quebec have not started chasing websites with their language laws, but I would not be surprised to hear that they are thinking about it. How long before the US goes bi-lingual with Spanish as a second language? If you think adding alt

  • Society should take care of disabled people, but such charity should be limited to some small percentage of our resources. It would be reasonable to require Target to spend, say, 3% of their profit making its facilities accessible. Granted, this would probably accomplish much more than adding ALT tags to target.com. BUT, as a small or unprofitable website developer, I would be able to focus on staying afloat rather than adding an alternative interface. If my website (or say, a family restaurant) goes under
  • I've bought quite a few things at Target's website, and I'm stunned that it's unusable with screen readers. There's little or no dynamic content, and none that couldn't be easily done by showing/hiding DIVs with CSS. Granted it's graphics-intensive, but there are still descriptions of products and other stuff that should make it usable for VI people using screen readers.

    So I went to target.com in Lynx, which is our quick and dirty check for SEO and screen reader usability (we do other checks before we f

    • Ever glance at their job application terminals? The mouse device is built into the right side, basically rendering it unusable to anyone who is left handed. They don't even care about a simple and cheap standard like "built-in mouse devices go in the center in the front.".
  • The judge? How about the law? The ADA was Bush Sr's favorite "social justice" law, which required many expensive (and probably worthwhile) changes to how American business places were operated. It hasn't been amended by the Republican Congress in the 12 years both Republicans and the ADA have both been in power.
  • I don't know where else to ask, since I don't know a public discussion forum for discussing slashdot. :) But honestly: why are there so little modded comments at the moment? I also haven't had modpoints in some time. Has this something to do with the new comment system or tagging beta?
  • this ground was covered a few years ago in (what I think was) a correct decision by a federal court where a disabled person brought suit against Southwest Airlines for its web site. The court said, under the law, the world of online does not count as a place of public accomodation. The ADA was written very clearly to cover physical locations. It gives a list of places that fall under this definition, like a barbershop, auditorium, bakery, etc.

    Whether or not the online world should fall under the AD
  • . . . their brick-and-mortar stores.

    Duh.

    Fucking bleeding-heart courts.
  • If this applies to Target, won't this apply to almost all US companies with a real physical storefront? I can just feel the litigation coming...

    The real problem with the ADA is that there is no real cost benefit analysis. For many ADA required fixes, the cost is huge and a small benefit goes to a very small group of people. How much will it cost a small mom and pop store to completely redesign the website of their home business? Thousands and thousands of dollars? And how many blind web-surfers will c

  • Should Online Stores Be Subject To ADA?

    Well it worked for Charles Babbage...

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