Target pact won't lead to Web access standards

Legal experts do expect that the settlement will prompt upgrades of many retail sites.

The settlement signed last month by Target to resolve a class-action lawsuit charging that its Web site isn't fully accessible by blind persons won't become the basis for online-accessibility standards, said the US National Retail Federation.

A spokesman for the trade association, which represents more than 1.6 million US retailers, said that a broad spectrum of retail companies and trade groups would have to be included in any standards discussions.

"For standards to really work, they can't be dictated by a single entity," said spokesman Scott Krugman.

"They need to be put together as a collaborative process with all interested parties; standards also need to have flexibility," he added. "There are so many different retailers with so many different levels of sophistication with their Web sites, it is very difficult to force standards this prematurely."

The agreement signed by Target settled a 2006 class-action lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco by the California chapter of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and several individuals.

The suit claimed that the retailer's Web site violated state and federal laws prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities.

As part of the settlement, announced on August 27, Target is creating a US$6 million fund against which plaintiffs can make claims. The retailer also agreed to update its Web site so that blind users running screen-reader software have access to the same features all other users do, and to let NFB personnel regularly test those improvements once they are completed early next year.

The settlement also requires Target to hold periodic training sessions for its internal Web developers, and to provide federation officials with a quarterly summary of complaints received about accessibility.

Target has already made "significant enhancements" to improve the accessibility of its Web site, said Steve Eastman, president of the retailer's Target.com unit, in a statement. He added that Target is working with the NFB to further refine its site.

Krugman said that the pace of technological change makes it difficult for many retailers to offer the latest innovations for disabled people on their Web sites.

"In a lot of cases, retailers are moving as fast as the technology is allowing them to," he said. "The [reader] technology is more advanced than the Web sites themselves. Retailers are certainly not looking to alienate their customer base."

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