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Techrunch readers off target

  • By Paul Crichton
  • 16 Oct 07, 03:29 PM

A recent court ruling in California has great implications for website accessibility in the state, and perhaps beyond. The attitudes of some US technologists suggest that the ruling came not a moment too soon.

A US District judge in California had found that the e-commerce website of Target, a major chain of department stores, did not provide sufficient accessibility to all user groups, and she ruled that further legal proceedings could go ahead. This has implications for other companies with websites based in California, and perhaps beyond that state. If you are interested in reading more about the case, then Out-Law has a fuller discussion on what it all means.

Techcrunch, a hugely popular technology blog, covered the story in sober fashion, but some of the reactions from readers of the blog have been rather alarming.

There are comments from users displaying great ignorance and bordering on offensive – “what’s next, driver licenses for the blind?” There are even some comments that cross that border, and are too offensive to repeat here.

Most of the more reasoned objections revolve around time and money. These can be countered with well-worn arguments – building an accessible website is no more expensive than an inaccessible one, and an inclusive website reaches a bigger audience and should therefore make more money in the long run.

There is, however, one cultural objection that we don’t often see here in the UK. This is to do with a free market economy. All the answers sums up the argument by saying that, “if Target doesn’t make its website accessible, then Target has made a business decision that it doesn’t care about business from the blind. And that’s their right.”

There is a logic to this, and I can see the argument. But I don’t subscribe to it. I think it is clear that a free market cannot be relied upon to accept its responsibilities, otherwise there would be far more accessible websites around.

What makes this all so noteworthy is that the debate can be found on Techcrunch. It isn’t just some strange outpost in an unfrequented part of the net. Comments are from people interested in, and in some cases, building the cutting edge websites of the internet.

There are accessibility advocates on the thread, so it isn’t a situation without hope. But some of the views expressed by those people who are shaping the web are not greatly encouraging either.

Some of these people need to improve their awareness of both the issues, and solutions. And if it takes legislation to compel them to do it, then so be it.

Comments   Post your comment

The Disability Discrimination Act has done wonders in the UK for accessibility but for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The proliferation of so-called Web 2.0 sites that are crammed to the hilt with JavaScript-reliant AJAX and other non-accessible functionality is making the advances of the DDA an uphill struggle. People really need to keep accessibility foremost in mind when designing sites and this change needs to start with web-designers.

The US is somewhat backward when it comes to things like this but ultimately a site that is fully accessible to disabled users of all types, is fully accessible to search engines, and this is only ever good for business. The moaning will soon end when there is the weight of law pressing down. The only thing that does concern me is that the legislation came after the law-suit. If the US government had made moves to implement this before a civil suit arose, the floodgates of litigation would be somewhat more controlled. If this case is successful, there will be a rash of civil suits across the state and beyond.

I explore accessibility and SEO issues with web 2.0 sites on my new blog, suckr.

The US is somewhat backward when it comes to things like this but ultimately a site that is fully accessible to disabled users of all types, is fully accessible to search engines, and this is only ever good for business. The moaning will soon end when there is the weight of law pressing down. The only thing that does concern me is that the legislation came after the law-suit. If the US government had made moves to implement this before a civil suit arose, the floodgates of litigation would be somewhat more controlled. If this case is successful, there will be a rash of civil suits across the state and beyond.

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