Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Visually-impaired website access

Dear Rich: I have a question. I read about the Target lawsuit and I wanted to know the rules for websites that must be accessible for the blind. I'm so glad you asked (and you're not the only one to inquire). The lawsuit between the National Federation for the Blind and the Target retail chain was settled last month. Until this lawsuit, many retailers believed that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defined "places of public accommodation" as physical stores, not websites. However, a 2006 federal court decision held that sites that accommodate the public with goods or services are also covered by the ADA (as well as by the California Unruh Civil Rights Act, and the California Disabled Persons Act).
To comply, you should avoid doing what Target was doing: (1) Target didn't have "compliant alt-text" which is embedded text that describes an image. (Visually-impaired users have computers that can vocalize the description.) (2) Target's website contained image maps and other graphical features which are inaccessible to the blind. (An image map is a picture containing multiple links--for example a map of the U.S.) (3) Finally, Target shoppers could only complete a sales transaction using a mouse -- visually impaired users must use a keyboard. You can read all of the web accessibility guidelines at the W3C site. By the way, the Dear Rich staff also wants to report that Congress approved an amendment to the ADA this week that will broaden the definition of disabled persons to include "individuals who could compensate for their disabilities with medications, medical devices or prosthetics" -- a group that the Supreme Court had previously excluded from ADA coverage.