California court tilts towards mandating web accessibility

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California law may require websites to be accessible to disabled internet users, according to a ruling in a case against retail giant Target. Despite recent improvements to the accessibility ofTarget.com, the case has now been certified as a class action.

Target was sued by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and one of its blind members, Bruce Sexton, under a federal law, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and also under two state laws, the California Disabled Persons Act and the California Unruh Civil Rights Act.

The NFB and Sexton argue that Target.com is not accessible to blind internet users, in breach of these federal and state laws. They complained that images on the site were missing alternative text upon which blind users rely; keyboard controls do not work, meaning users must be able to work a mouse; and headings are missing that are needed for navigation.

District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel in the Court for the Northern District of California had previously ruled that the inaccessibility of Target.com impeded full and equal enjoyment of goods and services offered in Target stores pursuant to the ADA. She has now ruled that the case is eligible for class action statusand she rejected an effort by Target to have the case thrown out.

All e-commerce businesses should take note ofthis decision and immediately take steps to open their doors to the blind.

Key questions in the lawsuit remain to be resolved, though. A UK lawyer said that these will be vital in determining the ruling's impact on other businesses in the US.

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