When it comes to accessibility for the blind, a Target store is a Target store whether it has four walls or only exists online. That's the ruling from a federal judge in California.
Judge Marilyn Hall Patel ruled this week that a class action discrimination suit against the Target Corporation can go forward, rejecting Target’s motion to dismiss the case.
One of Target’s blind customers in Edina, Steve Jacobson, says he’d rather see the issue resolved out of court. But short of that Jacobson’s glad the judge allowed the case to proceed.
“We go to Target often. We're regular customers,” said Jacobson, “We're not just blind Internet customers. We're spending a couple of hundred bucks a week probably at Target. By doing this they're not providing a serviced to an existing, well paying customer.”
Surfing the web with his ears
While browsing Target.com is easy for most users, blind customers have encountered problems as they navigate the site. They use screen reading software to detect the words on the Web site, and synthetic voice software to convert that text to spoken word.
“It has quite a few different voices, and there is a female voice, and there are some new voices that sound very human,” quipped Jacobson when asked if the robotic voice was the only one available with his software, “But this one is still kind of the old reliable voice.”
Rather than using a mouse to click on images and words, blind users use the tab button and other key strokes to move from item to item. When they land on a clickable picture the screen reader searches for a text description of the link connected to that image, known as “alt-text.”
In many places on the Target site the text is easy to detect and translate for the screen reading software. As Steve tabbed from one heading to another on the Target site, the synthetic voice could be heard saying “link furniture” then “link sports” and “link toys” etcetera.
But when he landed on some buttons the electronic voice read a long string of numbers with no discernable meaning. For instance, when Steve landed on the Dyson vacuum cleaner button the synthetic voice said, “Link GP browse dot html reference zero six zero six one eight nine six three eight one eight zero seven two nine seven three five 12 million 957 thousand 121.”
“There's the first example of a problem,” remarked Jacobson, “Instead of giving me a nice clear label it gave me a long, long series of numbers.”
He added, “In some cases you don't know what you should do. In some cases they may not matter but you just don't know what you're missing. You know if I were shopping I'd probably hesitate to push that button.”
Civil Rights on the Web
The suit was brought by the National Federation of the Blind, and a blind college student in California in February. Target asked the judge to throw it out, arguing that civil rights laws apply to the accessibility of the stores, and those stores are accessible to the blind. But the judge disagreed, ruling the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA prohibits discrimination in the “enjoyment of goods, services, facilities or privileges.”
Jacobson, who’s been a computer systems analyst for 30 years and belongs to the National Federation of the Blind, said the glitches should be easy enough to fix if Target is properly motivated.
“You know it's not that anybody set out to do it on purpose, but sometimes once the infrastructure is in place it's hard to get them to change it. We don't expect people are going to just know this stuff, but usually people are going to want to cooperate.”
Experienced Web shopper
Jacobson said he likes online shopping because he doesn’t have to bother with transportation to and from the store.
“For years most of us were used to paying somebody to go with us shopping or relying on store help and going there, and then the Web came along. We found web pages were pretty easy to use and a lot of us who are blind found that this is pretty neat.”
But he says Target site is simple not as easy to use because of the alt-text glitches and problems going through the final “check out” phase, where some buttons are difficult to reach without the use of a mouse.
“On occasion we've ordered from the Target web site but when we have we've had to have somebody click on the button.”
Target Corporation, based in Minneapolis, wouldn’t provide a spokesperson to comment on camera Friday. But the retailed issued the following written statement to KARE-TV:
“We believe our Web site complies with all applicable laws and are committed to vigorously defending this case. We will continue to implement technology that increases the usability of our Web site for all our guests, including those with disabilities.”
By John Croman, KARE 11 News.
(Copyright KARE-TV and wire sources)