updated 8/27/2008 4:17:10 PM ET 2008-08-27T20:17:10

Target Corp. has agreed to pay $6 million in damages to plaintiffs in California unable to use its online site as part of a class action settlement with the National Federation of the Blind, a leading advocacy group for blind people.

As part of the settlement, announced Wednesday, Target will place $6 million in an interest-bearing account from which members of the California settlement class can make claims. Furthermore, the settlement requires Target to implement internal guidelines to make its site more accessible to the blind by Feb. 28, 2009, with assistance from the NFB.

The retailer and the NFB have agreed to a three-year relationship during which the advocacy group will keep testing the site to make sure it is accessible to the blind who use technologies such as screen-reading software. NFB said it will certify the site through its own certification program once the improvements are completed.

The issue centers on the Americans With Disabilities Act, a 1990 law that requires retailers and other public places to make accommodations for people with disabilities. Target had argued that the law only covered physical spaces.

"We feel that it is a wake-up call to companies that have Web sites that are selling goods and services," said Christopher S. Danielsen, a spokesman at the NFB. "They need to pay attention to accessibility. It is the right thing to do." He also pointed out that the benefits of attracting new users far outweigh the costs of making changes to the site.

Work needed, but many sites ‘somewhat accessible’
Danielsen noted that when the suit was filed two years ago, Target's site was more difficult to navigate than other sites such as Walmart.com. He noted that at the time, many links on Target's site were unintelligible to screen-reading software, which converts written words into speech. He added, however, that Target has made progress and said the advocacy group looks forward to working with Target to make additional improvements.

Steve Eastman, president of Target.com said in a statement that "as the company's online business has evolved, we have made significant enhancements in order to provide an accessible shopping experience." He added that the company will work with the NFB on future refinements to the Web site.

Danielsen said that currently there are many retail sites that are "at least somewhat accessible" to the blind, but there's more work to be done. He noted that NFB is working with Amazon.com as part of an agreement to make the site more user friendly for the blind, but he does have some concerns. "We are hopeful that we can resolve issues without litigation," he said.

Amazon officials could not be reached immediately for comment.

The NFB filed a lawsuit against Target in California's superior court in February 2006. In September of 2006, a federal judge in California allowed the NFB's case to proceed, rejecting Target's argument that its Web site wasn't subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act. The case was converted into a class action suit in October 2007.

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