NEW YORK — Target Corp. has agreed to pay $6 million in damages to plaintiffs in California unable to use its online site as part of a class-action settlement with the National Federation of the Blind, a leading advocacy group for blind people.
As part of the settlement, announced Wednesday, Target will place $6 million in an interest-bearing account from which members of the California settlement class can make claims. Furthermore, the settlement requires Target to implement internal guidelines to make its site more accessible to the blind by Feb. 28, 2009, with assistance from the NFB.
The Minneapolis-based retailer and the NFB have agreed to a three-year relationship during which the advocacy group will keep testing the site to make sure it is accessible to the blind who use technologies such as screen-reading software. The NFB said it would certify the site through its certification program once the improvements are completed.
The issue centers on the Americans With Disabilities Act, a 1990 law that requires retailers and other public places to make accommodations for people with disabilities. Target had argued that the law covered only physical spaces.
"We feel that it is a wake-up call to companies that have websites that are selling goods and services," said Christopher S. Danielsen, a spokesman for the NFB. "They need to pay attention to accessibility. It is the right thing to do." He also pointed out that the benefits of attracting new users far outweigh the costs of making changes to the site.
Danielsen noted that when the suit was filed two years ago, Target's site was more difficult to navigate than other sites such as Walmart.com. He noted that at the time, many links on Target's site were unintelligible to screen-reading software, which converts written words into speech.
He added, however, that Target had made progress and said the advocacy group looked forward to working with Target to make additional improvements.
Steve Eastman, president of Target.com, said in a statement that "as the company's online business has evolved, we have made significant enhancements in order to provide an accessible shopping experience." He added that the company would work with the NFB on future refinements to the website.