In February 2006, then 24-year-old Bruce Sexton filed a lawsuit against Target Corp. saying he couldn’t “read” its Web site. Although Sexton is blind, the University of California-Berkeley student claimed that the site failed to use screen-reading software that allows visually impaired shoppers to hear audio descriptions of what’s displayed on the page.
Sexton, along with the National Federation of the Blind, allege in the lawsuit that Target.com has “thousands of access barriers that make it difficult, if not impossible, for blind customers” to visit, navigate and shop the site. The plaintiffs argue that other retailers use software to allow access to blind computer users. A federal court judge issued rulings on Oct. 2, 2007, certifying a federal and state class of plaintiffs in this case and denying motions to dismiss filed by Target. While Target has not been found liable under any of the actions and has not been ordered to make modifications to its Web site, these rulings will result in the case moving forward to a trial.
At the trial, most likely to be held in 2008, the plaintiffs will have the opportunity to prove their claims that Target’s Web site violates federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination against the 1.3 million blind people in the United States and blind residents of California, while Target will present its defense.
Although the case is still pending, the issue has sent a red-flag alert to the e-commerce world, leaving retailers wondering how accessible Web sites need to be for those with visual disabilities. According to a Reuters report, the visual impairments at hand may include everything from total blindness to color blindness to those who need to see larger characters.
Benita Kahn, an attorney at law firm Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP who has worked with Web-related issues involving the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the past, said other decisions addressing Web sites and the ADA had different results than the Target case.
Kahn said that the greater concern with this decision, depending on the ultimate resolution, are the rulings that address the two California laws, the Unruh Act and the Disabled Persons Act (DPA). For example, the court ruled that no nexus, or connection, was required under these California laws between an inaccessible Web site and a physical place of public accommodation, and ruled that the class could pursue damages under the California laws. Minimum statutory damages range from $4,000 to $1,000 per offense.
“Retailers should take a step back now to see if their Web sites were created in a way that would be accessible to blind-reader applications,” Kahn warned.
Under the ADA, businesses must provide access to people with mental and physical disabilities. Some recent lawsuits focus on what Web-site owners should be required to do to make their pages accessible to the disabled.
“When Web sites first started to pop up in the mid-1990s, companies were focused on how to make it a commercial operation,” Kahn said. “It is unlikely that e-commerce sites thought about this issue. In fact, at the time the California DPA was enacted, the Netscape browser had not been introduced.”
Since screen-reading applications are not difficult to implement, retailers need to revamp their sites to not only comply with the law, but to extend an equal opportunity for all consumers to shop. Kahn suggests that as retailers create new sites or revise existing sites they speak with their IT team or consultants who can provide input on making their site accessible to these blind-reader applications.
CompUSA may get a new look
ADDISON, Tx. After opening a new format store last month, CompUSA may be changing the format of its other stores, depending on customer demand and product interest.
According to reports, the elements found in the prototype store, located in Texas, will be incorporated into other CompUSA locations across the United States.
The nearly 7,700 square-ft. relocation site includes an Apple shop featuring Mac computers, iPods and Apple accessories, and a full-length LCD TV wall.
Additional expansions include extended gaming, which includes an entire wall devoted to the Nintendo Wii, PlayStation3 and Xbox 360 gaming platforms, plus a PC gaming setup to test equipment and play new titles.
While businesses can get their share of support with a specialized services section, all consumers can visit the store’s redesigned IT support area.
“This new store aligns CompUSA’s vision to better serve its three core customers, the technology enthusiast, educated professional and small and medium businesses,” said Gabriela Villalobos, the retailer’s sales and operations evp.
CompUSA announced in April that it would narrow its focus to three core customer groups rather than try to serve a mass audience.
The move was part of a comprehensive restructuring, initiated last February, that included an overhaul of senior management and the closure of half its store base as the privately held chain looked to improve sales and profitability.
Walgreens withdraws from CVS provider plans
DEERFIELD, Ill. After many months of talks over low and below-market payment rates by CVS Caremark for four prescription plans, Walgreens has withdrawn as a pharmacy provider from the plans.
Patients affected include members of prescription benefit plans managed by CVS Caremark for ArcelorMittal, Johnson Controls, Progressive Casualty Insurance and Wisconsin Education Association Trust.
Most of the affected members live in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Trent Taylor, president of Walgreens Health Services, the managed care division of Walgreens, released the following statement:
“This is not where we wanted negotiations to lead,” he said. “We’re sorry that our pharmacy patients and CVS Caremark’s clients are caught in the middle, and we’ll do all we can to ensure a smooth transition for our patients to another pharmacy. Meanwhile, we’ll continue to work on resolving this issue with CVS Caremark.
“Leaving a benefits plan is an extraordinary step for us, but it demonstrates how extraordinarily low our payments were from CVS Caremark. We can’t continue accepting reimbursement rates that are drastically below market, while offering patients needed special services such as 24-hour pharmacy access and drive-thru pharmacies.”