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Legal Culpability for Bugs?

Posted by todd at 2:27 AM on October 4, 2007

A lawsuit brought by a blind student against Target alleging that their web-site is not properly accessible has become a class action.  From the commentary I have read, the main reason that the site is hard to access with screen reading software is the lack of alt attributes for images on the site.  The alt attribute is used to give a text descriptor to images, it not only helps people using screen reading software, it also helps search engines understand your content.  You can read more about it here if you are interested.

Regardless of the outcome this case will increase the thought that large companies put into design of their web-site, but there may be impacts for the wider community as well.  I am sure that Target did not intentionally disenfranchise a segment of their market, they more likely took a coding shortcut.  It is best practice to apply descriptors to your images and to not do so is a coding error.  Depending on how this plays out, it is possible that Target could be found liable for a coding error, which comes under the general category of a software bug.

If there is a legal ruling of liability for software bugs won’t that open a can of worms?

2 Comments

  1. From kingtommy at 5:06 am on October 4, 2007

    There would be a million lawsuits the day after a ruling that a company was liable for software bugs. The day after the lawsuits there would also be 90% less software companies and programmers. :)

  2. From Susabelle at 7:09 pm on October 4, 2007

    This is not about charging big companies with being responsible for “software bugs.” Failure to put in alt-tags is NOT a “software bug.” This is an oversight, ignorant or not, by the web designer setting up the space.

    Here’s the deal. This type of situation has been brought to the fore before. ABC was once sued, and so was AOL, over ten years ago! (Both of those companies were slapped with huge fines for non-compliance.) The requirement to make websites, especially commercial and educational ones, accessible is nothing new, and companies like Target (and their web designers) have NO excuse for not having done it right in the first place. This should be SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) for ANYONE designing websites of any kind.

    I work in the field of disability services. I, myself, am sighted and non-disabled, but I know very well how frustrating it is for my visually impaired students to navigate a website that didn’t take into account that a visually impaired person might want to use it. When it comes to a business selling goods, this lack of care in their web design is actually costing them countless dollars in lost sales, as well.