On August 27, 2008, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and Target announced a $6 mil settlement in a class-action lawsuit concerning the inaccessibility of the Target.com website to blind users.
A major bone of contention in the suit, filed by the NFB in February 2006, was whether the Americans with Disabilities Act applies only to physical spaces, or to virtual ones as well. Target argued:
“Target.com is not a place of public accommodation within the meaning of the ADA, and therefore plaintiffs cannot state a claim under the ADA. Specifically…the complaint is deficient because it does not allege that ‘individuals with vision impairments are denied access to one of Target’s brick and mortar stores or the goods they contain.’” (PDF of the decision available at Disability Rights Advocates).
Nevertheless, the court found that the inaccessibility of Target.com “impedes the full and equal enjoyment of goods and services offered in Target stores.” This finding has caused some to wonder how disability laws apply to virtual worlds. As Benjamin Duranske of Virtually Blind writes:
“Although the Target settlement is about a 2D website, not a virtual world, it has clear applicability to 3D spaces. The argument is that both state law (particularly California’s disability discrimination law) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 can be applied to compel greater accessibility to web-based services. Under this theory, educational and enterprise virtual-world users (such as colleges requiring student attendance in virtual-world classrooms and businesses with both “click” and “brick” presences) could also be obligated to make their virtual world builds more accessible to disabled users.
“This is one area where virtual law could lead more general internet law. From a practical perspective, a non-technical fact-finder is going to more easily see a 3D virtual classroom with seats, a lectern, and a big screen showing PowerPoint presentations as a “public accommodation” under the ADA or similar state laws than a less obviously analogous 2D website, wiki, or course blog.”
(Cross-posted at my GameCritics.com blog).