For the past year, the webdesign community and the public at large has been debating a case in which blind citizens are suing Target because their website is inaccessible to them. Michelle Malkin has an update on the case at her blog: Blind shoppers get green light to sue Target over website.
There are a lot of opposing viewpoints being thrown about over this issue, some seeing this from a business perspective, some from a technical perspective, and some from both perspectives. I have my own opinion which I have decided to share, and though I know there are some things that I might be wrong about, this is really what I have concluded regarding this case. Let's talk about suing companies over inaccessible websites.
USA has an economy that thrives on the movement of money. If people stop buying and selling, if they are unable to produce goods or services and unable to purchase those goods and services from each other, the economy suffers. That is why the government wants people to be educated, to buy stocks, to shop (even frivolously), etc.
This is why it is important for people with disabilities to have the opportunity to contribute to their society, as able producers and consumers. If that means some extra effort to ensure that they can get an education, have a job, and shop like everyone else, it's worth it. Anyone who can't contribute to the economy is a burden on everyone else. So, it's important that blind people can shop like everyone else. As long as it is possible for companies to provide the means of access (wheelchair ramps, alt attributes, etc.), then they should. Not because it brings them more profit, or because it's nice to the consumer. Those are not reasons to make something mandatory. It should be mandatory because it's important to the economy as a whole.
After all, there is a lot of legislation already that ensures that companies do not do things that will hurt the greater economy. This is where antitrust regulation comes from; forcing companies like Microsoft to stop their own monopoly practices so that other companies can compete fairly. It's also why in some cases, companies are prevented from price gouging; because it's bad for the economy when people can't afford to buy the things they need. You'll have to excuse me for oversimplifying things here, but I think I've made my point: government regulation of corporations is nothing new. It isn't a bad idea either.
The role of government is to protect the individual. Well, it's one of many roles, but it's an important role nonetheless. In the event that a majority would act in ways that would harm the individual, the government is the only entity capable of protecting that individual. This may not be the way it happens, but it very well should be. Now, corporations are large groups, majorities if you will, that through strength in numbers (and dollars) are capable of causing a lot of economic harm. As a government should ensure a stable economy and protect the individual, regulating corporations makes sense. It might be difficult to decide exactly how that regulation should take place, but that's why (ideally) people should have a say in the political process. Should.
So what I'm trying to say is, I think blind citizens have a right to sue a major company over an inaccessible website. I'm okay with letting the courts decide the outcome. The truth is, I'm not a big government person and I'm not crazy about government regulations, but I have come to realize that if the government doesn't do anything to control the actions of big corporations, no one else will. Provided that the right regulations are made, I would rather have someone doing the job than no one at all.