Braille Monitor                                                                November 2006


From the President's Email The Target Case Raises Hackles

Marc Maurer

From the Editor: In early September 2006 the United States District Court for the Northern District of California rejected the defendant's motion for summary judgment in the National Federation of the Blind's lawsuit against the Target Corporation. The Federation had brought suit to require Target to make its Web site accessible to blind shoppers, arguing that it is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Target maintained that the ADA covers only three-dimensional locations, not cyberspace. As you can imagine, the case is complex and the arguments complicated. But the bottom line is that the judge rejected Target's motion that the case be thrown out, saying that the Web site is covered by the ADA. In 1990, when the ADA became law, Web sites did not exist at all, so Congress could not possibly have specifically included them in the legislation. The resulting debate over Web-site accessibility has raged for a decade, so this decision is significant. The case will now go to trial, and the merits of the opposing positions will actually be heard.

The very fact of the lawsuit seems to have angered at least one member of the general public who emailed his views to President Maurer. For the sake of clarity we have corrected most of his typographical and spelling errors, but it seems salutary to remind ourselves that some people still believe that blind people should be satisfied with second-class treatment, that organizations that are generous to their communities should be excused from behaving with fairness to everyone, and that standing up for the rights of blind people is reason enough to receive threats. Here is the message that President Maurer received followed by his response:

To Whom It May Concern:

I was extremely disappointed reading the story today that your organization is suing Target Corp. because of the accessibility of their Web site. Target is a corporation with a conscience and is so involved in the community. The corporation and its team members yearly give millions of dollars to charities and thousands of service hours in the community.

Target has said they are working to make their Web site more accessible. Is this not good enough?

The fact that your organization will not drop the lawsuit will not generate any sentiment from the community. I have worked with organizations internally that help blind people. Nothing your group is doing right now makes me ever want to help your organization based on this frivolous lawsuit.

Basically, I will work to spread the work [word] that your organization is not legitimately trying to move your organization's goals forward. If you view their Web site as discrimination, then I will be discriminating against your organization by writing many letters to newspapers about my views.

Be an upstanding member of the community and consider how this makes you look to others.

Chris Farnsworth

September 13, 2006

Dear Mr. Farnsworth:

I have read your email of September 8, 2006, I thoroughly disagree with your point of view, and I am mystified by your apparent annoyance or downright anger. To begin with, you are not discriminating against me. Although I am blind, I can read your email with ease. Even if you were discriminating against me, you are not covered by the laws that prohibit such activity. You are an individual, not a government or a business. You may do as you please with respect to making your thoughts accessible to me. In my capacity as president of the National Federation of the Blind, I do not have the same freedom with respect to you. I am prohibited from practicing discrimination against you.

The Target Corporation does not offer to make its Web site accessible to the blind. On behalf of blind Americans, I have asked Target to do it. Target officials declined. I cannot spend my money with Target using its Web site. Target may not want my money, but it holds itself out to the public as a store that sells through the Web site. It prohibits me, and those that are like me, from purchasing products using its Web site.

When I asked Target to change this, I told their managers and lawyers that I thought their actions violated the law. They said they didn't care what I thought. We were all very polite about it. In the meeting that we held, my colleagues and I pointed out that they were losing money, that they were not behaving as socially responsible people, and that their behavior was likely to tarnish their good image. They responded by saying that they did not plan to change--at least that they did not plan to change at any time in the foreseeable future. Target officials would not even discuss whether they would consider adopting a plan for change at any time in the foreseeable future.
I have been blind all of my life. I have been told by thousands of people that they thought highly of me. A good many of these thousands of people told me that they did not plan to do business with me because I am blind. Sometimes they said they wouldn't hire me. Sometimes they said they wouldn't let me into their places of business. Sometimes they said they wouldn't feed me the food that they offered to sell to others. I regarded these actions as discriminatory, and I have made up my mind to change them if I can. I intend to be courteous about it, but I do not intend to wait until somebody's charitable feeling induces them to treat me with the respect that everybody else takes for granted.

You think I should wait. I remember an act of discrimination that occurred to me when I was fourteen. Now I am fifty-five. Forty-one years have passed. The discriminations against the blind still occur, and I don't think I have enough time to wait for them to disappear. There are fewer of them today than occurred forty-one years ago, but there are still too many. I believe that the number of acts of discrimination has declined because the members of the National Federation of the Blind have consistently tried to stop them. This has raised the consciousness of the public to the reality that discrimination on the basis of blindness (and for that matter, discrimination on the basis of disability) is destructive.

If Target were to build its Web site to permit everybody to use it, this would be a benefit to Target as well as to the blind. The cost of building a Web site in this manner, if accessibility is considered from the beginning, is almost zero. The cost of reconfiguring a Web site is not exorbitant. What we are asking Target to do is reasonable and valuable. It is also required by American law.

From your letter I suspect that you are not a blind person. However, if you should become blind, you will want to have available to you the broad range of opportunities that are available to everybody else. I will do my best to ensure that you get them.


Marc Maurer, President
National Federation of the Blind