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Judge: Accessibility Laws Cover Websites
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
September 6, 2006

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA--In a ruling that could help blind people across the country and elsewhere, a federal judge ruled Wednesday that businesses could be sued if they fail to make their websites accessible.

The decision means that blind UC Berkeley student Bruce Sexton, Jr. and the National Federation of the Blind of California can move forward in their discrimination suit against Target Corporation.

The non-profit law firm Disability Rights Advocates filed the class action suit on behalf of the plaintiffs in February. They claimed that violates the California Unruh Civil Rights Act and the California Disabled Persons Act, along with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act because it is virtually inaccessible to blind Californians.

Specifically, the plaintiffs said the website lacks "alt text" tags, which are words that can be written into webpage code below graphic images so that computerized screen readers can describe those images out loud to blind web surfers. The website also lacks image maps, which allow blind users to move to different places on the site, and requires users to use a mouse to complete any transaction, which means that they must have a sighted person help them.

Target's lawyers had asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing that such civil rights laws only apply to physical premises and not the Internet.

Judge Marilyn Hall Patel said Wednesday that the accessibility laws cover all services a company provides, including its website.

"This ruling is a great victory for blind people throughout the country," said NFB President Dr. Marc Maurer in a press statement. "We are pleased that the court recognized that the blind are entitled to equal access to retail websites."

"I hope that I can soon shop online at just like anyone else," said Sexton, who also is president of the California Association of Blind Students. "I believe that millions of blind people like me can use the Internet just as easily as do the sighted, if the website is accessible."

The suit asked the court to force Target to stop violating the laws, to declare that Target is operating its website in a manner that discriminates against users who are blind or have visual disabilities, and to pay damages to the plaintiffs.

Press release: "Legal Precedent Set for Web Accessibility" (Disability Rights Advocates)

Text of complaint: "National Federation of the Blind v. Target" (Alameda County Superior Court)

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