Retailers need to become more accessible on-line

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2006 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.
Also posted on: Accessibility

Two recent events have highlighted the importance of retailers ensuring that their web sites are accessible.

Firstly, in America the National Federation of the Blind has brought a class action claiming that the web site of the retailer Target violates the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) because it is inaccessible to blind users. Target tried to wriggle out by asking the court to dismiss the case claiming that the web site is not covered under the legislation. The court has ruled against that claim in a way that suggests that, in most cases, retailer web sites will be covered (it is possible that if the retailer has no physical stores then they might be exempt, although it is probable that other parts of ADA would kick in).

The case will now go to court but it is still not certain that the claimants will win any substatial damages but Target have a reputational problem.

What this case does imply is that retailers, in the US, cannot now assume that their websites are not covered by ADA; any company will be ill advised to try and use that argument in the future. This, I would suggest, will be rigourously applied to any new entrants to the market and especially entrants from outside the US.

On this side of the pond Nomensa recently did a survey of the front page and terms and conditions pages of the top 30 UK retailers and all of them failed to meet the WCAG standards. Of these 30, recognition was given to John Lewis, Marks and Spencers, and Tesco for showing consideration of the issue. Nomensa highlighted the spending power of the disabied community who will not be able to use these sites unaided.

With a carrot of extra wallet share in the UK and possible legal action in the US it is time that retailers took another look at their On-line Social Responsibility and made plans to improve the accessibility of their web sites. It makes moral, social, financial and legal sense.