Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Target Becomes a Target

Did you see the news today about the lawsuit against Target? The National Federation of the Blind is suing Target for having a website that they say is not accessible to the blind.

I usually avoid commenting on the news, but I want you to know that my family is not represented by this kind of civil action. In the past, I've tried to avoid "going public" with my feelings about the decisions of this organization. There are many wonderful people within it, some of whom are my good friends. But then, it's not an organization where the people vote, so specific decisions do not necessarily represent their personal views either.

Well, do I think blind people should have access to websites? Of course, that's why we have screen magnification for Peter, and why Paul is getting a screen reader. Are some websites difficult for blind people to access? Some are, and there are ways that webmasters can get around it. For example, you can code a picture so that a blind person can hear a description of it (hmm, I'm thinking now that my blog is not accessible in that sense). I didn't see anything in the article - or at the NFB website - about what particular access issues there are with Target. I don't know what it would cost for Target to make their site accessible or why they haven't done it...or whether or not the NFB approached them with a request before threatening them with a lawsuit. I'm not saying that it's "okay" for a large selling organization to exclude a group of people from using their services, if this is what is happening.

But it seems that this world is lawsuit-happy. And I believe that often it is counter-productive. In this case, it's my personal opinion that a lawsuit might do more harm than good. What do we want for blind people? To be able to function as indepedently as possible in a largely-sighted society...and to have those sighted people recognize that they can! One of the biggest complaints I've heard is that people won't hire them. So, let's improve the image of blind people in the world. Hey, folks, let me tell you, people who are blind are just like you and me, only they can't see as well as you and I do. In some cases, an employer might need to spend just a little bit more money, on a short-term basis, for special equipment (such as screen magnification or a screen reader). But they may in turn have a very valuable, hard-working, loyal employee.

But is this the image conveyed by a class-action lawsuit being filed against a major department chain because of a website issue? I don't think so. Unfortunately, some sighted people might not know that the NFB is not the only blindness organization, nor that many blind people are not members of the NFB, nor that even the members don't have a say in the decisions.

One of my sons invited me to listen to Weird Al Yankovic's song, "I'll sue ya'". I laughed all the way through this song and I hope you might enjoy it, too. But, if you have children, and you don't like them hearing rock music, be forewarned.

Now, I have to say that at least the NFB vs. Target suit is for a more important issue than the ones Al sings about. I just don't think a lawsuit is the answer, nor that it represents all the blind people out there.

Just one woman's opinion.

P.S. Added next day: I just want to say that on this one, it's possible that I'm wrong. It's possible that this is the only way, or possibly even the best way, to get the job accomplished. I'm not saying it is! I personally have a big problem with lawsuits in general. I'm just saying that I'm not sure how much was done to try to get the site made accessible or how many companies don't have accessible sites or just what the answers are on this. It is important for people who are blind to be able to access stores online. What a huge service to be able to choose and order things without having to take a bus or cab to the store and then have someone describe them, but instead to have the freedom and ease to choose at home and then just have them sent to one's house! So it is important to have those sites accessible. Maybe it's something more of us need to think about. Hmm, wonder if I should learn how to label my pictures...


diana said...

It would never occur to me that blind people could even use the internet, I had no clue things existed for them to access learn something new every day...I have a friend who is close to blind and she uses a big magnifier to read the paper and books with.

Margaret Mary Myers said...

I understand your not having known that. Guess I wouldn't have even thought of it myself one way or the other before my youngest son became legally blind a few years ago. But yes, the technology is fantastic. In my post I mentioned screen magnification and screen reader, but I forgot to mention Braille output. There's a keyboard with something called "refreshable Braille" where the person reads a line, and then another line pops up and they can read that line, and so on. Really good Braille users can read every bit as fast as we read it on the screen. Many Braille users use voice output though because the Braille keyboards are more expensive...

Deb said...

I was good friends and a reader for the one time student president of NFB, and sometimes I wondered if logic was lost. He was a great person, and a great advocate for himslf, but did not ever think that perhaps the sighted world was actually trying to help. I could see him giddy with a suit like this. Sigh, There has to be balance and common sense sometimes.