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Accessibility More Than a Software Issue

Earlier this week Computerworld reported that a class action lawsuit was filed against Target concerning the lack of accessibility of its Web site to blind users (http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9003129). Target sought to have the suit thrown out, arguing that today's accessibility laws relate to physical, not virtual, accessibility. The judge declined to throw out the case, so it is moving forward.

That is not to say that Target will lose, at least this time. But this is clearly a point in time where online accessibility is starting to get a similar standing to physical accessibility. At some point, a court will rule that the two are close enough so that existing accessibility laws will apply to Web sites.

Deciding which Web sites have to have handicapped accessibility may be a more difficult issue, but I suspect that any entity with a physical presence requiring accessibility must also have accessibility for its Web site. For those entities such as Amazon.com, with no physical presence, the decision will be made based on their similarities to other businesses. There is unlikely to be any dispensation for companies with only an online storefront.

When we talk about accessibility to physical structures, we typically speak of architecture and construction for ramps, elevators, and wide corridors. In the virtual world, physical infirmity is less an issue, but blindness and deafness are. Today, this means more text and fewer bells and whistles on sites. In time, it may mean that we have entirely separate pages for handicapped use, in a manner similar to what sites do for mobile content today.

But the time is coming where the Web will have to be accessible, even more accessible than a physical location. If you haven't yet done so, it is time to get started.

Posted by Peter Varhol on 09/12/2006 at 1:15 PM


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