Monday, September 11, 2006

Online businesses must comply with ADA

I saw this ruling, Online Businesses Must Comply with ADA mentioned in one of our campus mailing lists and went digging for more information.

What this means is that any place of business that provides services, such as the opportunity to buy products on a website, is now, a place of accommodation and therefore falls under the ADA,“ said Kathy Wahlbin, Mindshare‘s Director of User Experience and expert on accessibility. “The good news is that being compliant is not difficult nor is it expensive. And it provides the additional benefit of making accessible web sites easier for search engines to find and prioritize.”

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled yesterday that a retailer may be sued if its website is inaccessible to the blind. The ruling was issued in a case brought by the National Federation of the Blind against Target Corp. The suit charges that Target‘s website is inaccessible to the blind and therefore violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the California Unruh Civil Rights Act, and the California Disabled Persons Act.

Personally, I think this is excellent. Not only is it the right thing to do and the law, but it also leads to much better Web design. It keeps people from doing stupid stuff just because they can. It‘s amazing that Target would bother to fight this.

I came across this great comment on the ruling at /. that sums it up very well:

Check out Target‘s site. On the first screen, there are four words of text: “Sign In“ and “New Guest.“ The stuff that looks like text really isn‘t, it‘s been saved as GIFs. There‘s also a big ol‘ Flash thing there. The second screen has actual text: the bulleted items are, even though the menu on the left isn‘t. Also the navigation panel at the bottom uses text. You can verify this by trying to select the “text.“ (For links, just make sure to move the pointer over a different link before you let go of the mouse button.) If you can select individual letters, it‘s actual text.

I‘m definitely impressed by Target‘s committment to stupidity. Most people wouldn‘t bother taking the extra time to turn plain, unenhanced Tahoma text into a bunch of 1.5KB GIFs. I mean, it makes the site 500 times bigger, it makes the site unusable by people with vision problems, it takes probably 10 times longer since you have to do it in Photoshop, and I bet they had to spend hours fiddling with the code to make everything line up properly. Most people would bail when they realized precisely how stupid an idea this was, but not Target! When they were done, they just wanted to know what stupid thing they could do next! “Hey guys, let‘s challenge this lawsuit that we patently have no chance whatsoever of winning! We‘re still going to lose, but now it‘ll cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and a bunch of bad publicity!”

You couldn‘t make this stuff up. In the end it comes down to keeping things simple, which is better for everyone.

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