Can the Blind Shop Your Website?

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Can the Blind Shop Your Website?

By Ned Bardic - 03/25/2013

While retailers are adding a variety of functionality to their websites to enhance the online shopping experience -- such as electronic coupons linked to loyalty cards, social and mobile functionality -- they may soon be faced with a mandate to add functionality that allows the blind to shop their sites, as well.

A recent Wall Street Journal article reported that advocates for disabled Americans say retailers have a legal obligation to make their websites as accessible to them as their stores are, and they have already began filing lawsuits against them to make it happen. This could mean that e-commerce websites can be required to add functionality such as audible descriptions of website content – both images and text – to their online stores.

Already the National Federation of the Blind and National Association of the Deaf have filed lawsuits against Netflix and Target. Both have settled out of court after Federal judges rejected their arguments that their websites were beyond the scope of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Operators of e-commerce websites maintain that the 1990 Act doesn’t apply to the Internet. Still if retailers with the legal resources of Target have backed down, how does that bode for those smaller players selling food online?

The WSJ article says that the Department of Justice ios expected to issue new regulations in website accessibility later this year that expand its coverage explicitly to include the Internet. If this is the case, retailers can spend up to 10 percent of their original website cost to retrofit required functionality into them; for new websites, the cost can be from 1 percent to 3 percent.

What’s your opinion? Do you agree that the Americans with Disabilities Act includes e-commerce sites? Have you been approached by any groups representing the disabled? If so, share your story with us be emailing me at [email protected]