Will Federal Court ruling over target.com effect Ajax development?

by Hari K. Gottipati

In my recent blog I wrote that the people realized the importance of accessibility and vendors are working on resolving the accessibility issues. While the efforts are still in progress, a federal court ruled that a website can be sued if it is inaccessible to the blind people.
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled yesterday that a retailer may be sued if its website is inaccessible to the blind. The ruling was issued in a case brought by the National Federation of the Blind against Target Corp. The suit charges that Target's website is inaccessible to the blind and therefore violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the California Unruh Civil Rights Act, and the California Disabled Persons Act.

I also mentioned that accessibility is the major hurdle for federal sector because all federal government web sites/applications has to meet the Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. But as per this ruling, it seems that non federal government websites also need to meet some rules(?).

This is too scary!!! We all know that the sites developed using Ajax tool kits and frameworks are not 100% accessible. Most Ajax applications use Ajax widgets that may or may not support accessibility. For example, a lot of Ajax toolkits don't have support keyboard navigation (mouse-less operation). So every Ajax based website can be sued according to this ruling. Only exception is if the site provides non-Ajax version. But how many sites provides the non-Ajax versions which can be readable by screen readers? Gmail and Google maps has the non-Ajax versions(yes Google maps has the non-Ajax version which just displays the map as image with out any dragging/zooming features. Turn off Java Script and go to maps.google.com, you will see the non-Ajax version). But Google video, reader and all other Google products doesn't have non-Ajax version. Similarly all live products from Microsoft except live mail doesn't have non-Ajax versions. Yahoo has non-Ajax versions for most of their products as they have older versions of the products which they are using as non-Ajax versions.

So do you think all these sites can be sued as per the ruling? Oh! boy this is scarier than I can imagine!

Now enterprises will be careful before adopting Ajax as currently there is no toolkit which promises 100% accessibility. Vendors like Bakbase, Bindows can improve the accessibility features, but cannot meet the requirements as Ajax is kind of desktop functionality inside a web browser. And its a real challenge for Ajax developers as they cannot develop just to say "ooh look at me I'm web 2.0 too!". They need to develop the applications by keeping accessibility in mind.

With all this will it slow the Ajax momentum? What ever it is, at least it raises people's attention on accessibility as we all went for Ajax almost "blindly" by ignoring the key issues.


2006-09-09 19:09:12
"Will Federal Court ruling over target.con effect Ajax development?"

We can only hope.

Section 508 basically outlines the bare minimum of accessibility guidelines...it doesn't take all that much work. And if you develop an entire, complex web application with no regard to accessibility...you only have yourself or (more likely) your manager to blame.

2006-09-09 20:44:33
Ajax IS not accessible. It DOES prevent certain users from using your website. Like it or not.

And Ajax is not "great" or "new" technology. It's actually pretty bad. You'll have a hard time employing any modern software design technologies with Ajax. It's the dark ages coming back. The ages of browser incompatibility and bad programming languages. Ajax is a huge collection of workarounds combined with some fancy UI effects (which need these workarounds).

2006-09-09 20:48:47
Dear erich:


If you have your pages degrade properly, Ajax impairs nobody's access. Not to mention, screenreaders CAN actually work with Ajax-driven sites if (keyword: "if") you make them correctly.

I will agree, though, that the vast majority of the current examples fail miserably at this.

2006-09-09 21:00:15
Since I should really give examples with my argument:

Making Ajax Work with Screen Readers

Okay, I got lazy:

How to Make Your AJAX Applications Accessible - 40 Tutorials and Articles

2006-09-09 22:28:33
I would like to have the online world accessible to anyone. However, I don't understand how an online store should be held responsible for how much people can access a site.
That sets a dangerous precedent for the online merchant world. If this goes through, then ANY website that provides any kind of commercial service would be held responsible for their accessibility.
2006-09-09 22:56:28
"If this goes through, then ANY website that provides any kind of commercial service would be held responsible for their accessibility."

Well...yeah. Just like any physical business get held responsible for their building's accessibility (wheelchair ramps, doorway widths, etc.). Can someone explain to me the downside of requiring online businesses to have accessible sites?

2006-09-10 04:09:06
There is another issue. Section 508 assumes that someone will be using some piece of software like a screen reader to use a website and it isn't the website developer's responsibility to actually provide audio (for instance) but just to provide the information in an "accessible format" that such software can use. By that argument you could argue that providing the page is still well formed HTML with alt tags and so forth, AJAX websites are completely accessible and the screen readers just haven't caught up yet technologically...
Matthew Sporleder
2006-09-10 20:09:13
Oliver, you should have mentioned that angle to the target law team! ;)

Countersue JAWS!

Hari K Gottipati
2006-09-10 20:40:39
You are right. Screen readers are developed based on traditional web sites. But now a days traditional web sites are converting to Ajax based sites. Hence screen readers has to be updated along with the Ajax evolution. I can't understand why people are not investing in that direction?

2006-09-10 21:44:33
"affect" "affect" "affect" Thank you.
Jeremy French
2006-09-11 01:45:45
Plenty of people were making horribly inaccessible websites well before Ajax came along. Ajax is just one of a number of ways to hobble your site for screen readers, perhaps a couple of high profile lawsuits will get people to at least think about accessibility again.
2006-09-11 10:11:45
Jeremy: Agreed. They also failed to use alt text, which has nothing to do with Ajax.
2006-09-15 23:41:20
What bearing does this have on non-US web sites that are accessed from the US? Could other jurisdictions produce contradictory requirements, and who resolves the resulting mess? The technology is the lesser problem, perhaps?
2006-09-19 05:06:48
In the UK accessibility for government and commercial websites is covered by the Disability Discrimination Act. This also covers any other software required to perform a job. All cases brought so far have been settled out of court.

EU wide there are ongoing negotiations to make the version 2 of the W3C accessibility guidelines manditory for all governmental websites. Whether that will eventually extend to all EU commercial sites I don't know.

If the requirements are based on the W3C guidelines, then probably there won't be any contradiction between jurisdictions, assuming the guidelines are unambiguous.