Target, accessibility and opinions

So, Target is being sued by the American National Federation for the Blind because of their inaccessible website. I have received a number of emails asking for my opinion, so here it is…..

I suppose I could say that my Christian morals demand that if society is able to help somebody they have an obligation to do so. I could also argue that the "free market" economy (which appears to be the main argument in support of Target’s actions) is one step away from Social Darwinism. Of course, were I to say that, I would just be spoiling for a fight! ;)

The truth is I don’t believe that my personal opinions on the subject (or the opinion of any other web designer) matter that much. There seems to be a huge amount of debate among web designers on the topic and yet few seem to be grasping the reality of the situation.

"I am a web designer Jim, not a politician!"

Web designers are not politicians, lawyers or judges. It is not our job to form government policy or write legislation. We are debating a subject which has long since been done to death by the people appointed to shape America’s social justice system. I don’t claim to be an expert on American law but it would seem to me that legislation already exists in the states outlining disability discrimination. It is not for us to argue as web designers the rights or wrongs of that legislation.

Equally we are not business owners. We do not have to balance PR concerns, with social responsibility and return on investment. We don’t get to say what makes good business sense and what doesn’t.

We are web designers damn it, act like it!

However we are web designer. It is our job to advise our clients on the practical implications of making their sites accessible and leave the final decision to them. If Target had called me when the American National Federation for the Blind first contacted them, my advice would have been straightforward. Ensuring your website meets basic accessibility requirements is a quick, simple job that will be a hell of a lot cheaper than any bad publicity or litigation you could potentially face.

If I was forced to point fingers here it would be at the web designers who produced this site. At Headscape, we don’t ask our clients if they want their sites to be accessible, we just make them that way. As web designers we should be building in at least basic accessibility features by default because the cost of doing so is negligible.

Once again I would like to echo Andy Clarke’s words in his interview for accessify.com:

Those people still delivering nested table layout, spacer gifs or ignoring accessibility can no longer call themselves web professionals.

If you are a business owner and this case has caught your attention, I have but one piece of advice… make sure your web designers are doing their job.

  • http://www.jorgepinon.com Jorge Pinon

    Coming from the print side, I’ve been designing for the web now for only a year or so, but am trying to be as standards-based, usability- and accessibility-minded as I can (thanks for that direction Paul!). I’m also teaching web design at a college and championing those things as best I can.
    Reading some of the comments at sitepoint made me a little ashamed of being a “web designer”, but it goes to show how even our supposedly young, hip and intelligent industry is not immune to ignorance.
    I’m with you on this, that it’s a simple decision from ROI and PR standpoints. But maybe Social Darwinism, in this case, may work to get the less enlightened designers out and pave the way for accessibility. For the good of our clients and their disabled customers alike.

  • http://www.stardust-design.co.uk/ Daniel Chesterton

    I can’t believe some of the comments on the Sitepoint forums.
    “If they where blind then why would they be on the computer?”
    “I still dont get it. How is an ATL-text going to be usfull so someone that cant see it? This is liking sueing McDonalds cas there hot chocolate is too hot! They will never win…”
    This is coming from a so called web designer, i can’t believe the ignorance. Hopefully this case will open people’s eyes and start making more people create accessible, usable and web standards based websites.

  • http://www.splintered.co.uk patrick h. lauke

    i’m glad that the mods finally locked the sitepoint thread…i was getting very tired of trying to hit the idiots there with a clue-by-four.

  • http://www.abc-k.pl kultura

    I support! You should help different people and particularly tym weaker than us. Let’s show as our hearts great are!!

  • http://www.abc-k.pl kultura

    I support! You should help different people and particularly tym weaker than us. Let’s show as our hearts great are!!

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