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Should e-commerce websites support Web Accessibility by law?

I recently ran a couple of articles on web accessibility [1] [2] and what emerged was the prospect of much improvement as the web standards become the rule rather than the exception.

I say this with confidence because there’s money in conforming to the web standards and web accessibility in particular.

My line of reasoning in my first article was that web standards compliance will come to pass by one of two motivating factors: firstly, the desire by web designers and developers and their clients to take advantage of the benefits beholden to web standards, or secondly as a means of avoiding legal action.

Either way, change will happen, or the rod of law will be drawn and applied with a judicious down-stroke across the back of those who fail to comply.

But coming back to the title of this missive; should e-commerce websites support Web Accessibility by law? I’d say yes:

“HTML tutorials usually mention alt tags for images and noscript tags as something optional that a Web designer should add to a site for the crawlers and users browsing with graphics or JavaScript turned off. However, a recent lawsuit against Target by the National Federation of the Blind accuses the retailer of not complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Since Target’s online store is unbrowsable with a screen reader, the nation’s 200,000 blind people who go online cannot become paying customers, the NFB contends. From the article: ‘In denying Target’s motion to dismiss the suit two months ago, Judge Marilyn Hall Patel… held that the law’s accessibility requirements applied to all services offered by a place of public accommodation. Since Target’s physical stores are places of public accommodation, the ruling said, its online store must also be accessible or the company must offer equally effective alternatives.’ Does the judge’s name ring a bell? Yes, it’s the same Marilyn Hall Patel who handled the RIAA’s case against Napster in 2001.”

In many ways, the frontier attitude to the web has moved on. The battle lines are more fine grained and hidden in the details of the technologies that are built atop the stuff of the web, such as HTML.

Right now, a certain maturation is taking place and organized and sometimes hidden but always committed hands are shaping the web into something that is a place of conformity which allows commerce to be fostered and grown more easily.

I firmly think that for any web applications that offer a business-to-business or business-to-consumer venue, the web standards must be adhered to and web accessibility must be a priority.

There are clear benefits to using the web standards properly, such as being more friendly to the search engines and by making your websites and web applications more easily navigable to your able-bodied visitors as well as those with some physical or visual disability…

By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

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