Beyonce.com Lawsuit Reminds Us How Shitty the Web Is for Users With Visual Impairment

Beyoncé Knowles
Photo: Getty

Mary Conner, a legally blind woman, filed a class-action lawsuit against Beyoncé Knowles’ entertainment company Parkwood Entertainment on Thursday alleging that the superstar’s official website isn’t accessible for visually impaired users. Conner is described in the lawsuit as having “no vision whatsoever” and alleged that she tried a number of times to visit and complete a purchase on Beyonce.com in December of last year to no avail.

Conner went to Beyoncé’s website to learn about the artist and buy a Holidayoncé Embroidered Pullover Hoodie online, but because the website wasn’t compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act, she wasn’t able to, according to the lawsuit published by the Hollywood Reporter. The lawsuit describes a number of ways in which Beyonce.com prevents visually impaired and legally blind users from navigating or making purchases online.

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The lawsuit alleges that the website doesn’t include alternative text (alt-text) on graphics, which involves adding descriptive language to an image with HTML so that people using screen-readers can hear a description of it. The lawsuit also alleges that Beyoncé’s website lacks accessible drop-down menus and navigation links, as well as the ability to make a purchase without using a mouse, among other barriers like empty and redundant links. Today, on Beyoncé’s online store, Gizmodo found images both with and without descriptive alt tags.

In Conner’s case, the absence of an accessible drop-down menu would mean that she wasn’t able to choose the size of a certain product or get confirmation that it had been added to her shopping cart. This is just one example of how a website failing to incorporate accessible design can exclude millions of users around the world. “Parkwood excludes the blind and visually-impaired from the full and equal participation in the growing Internet economy that is increasingly a fundamental part of the common marketplace and daily living,” the lawsuit states, adding that visually impaired users trying to navigate Beyoncé’s website would need the help of a sighted person.

The lawsuit indicates that Conner “has been a big fan of Beyoncé for many years” and “regularly listens to and is familiar with many of her songs” and “dreams of attending a Beyoncé concert and listening to her music in a live setting.” But because the website is allegedly inaccessible, fans like Conner who may have visual impairments or are legally blind can’t learn about tour dates or purchase tickets on Beyonce.com, among other goods and services available on the website.

Beyonce.com wouldn’t be unique in its apparent failure to provide an accessible website. In fact, a staggering amount of developers don’t follow recommended website accessibility standards. A similar lawsuit was filed against makeup brand Glossier last year after a legally blind woman allegedly “encountered multiple access barriers” when trying to browse the company website.

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“The fact it is still necessary to convince businesses that website accessibility is part of just operations is saddening,” Cynthia Bennett, a PhD. Candidate in Human Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington, told Gizmodo in May in response to the Glossier class-action lawsuit. “But inaccessible websites quietly commit similar discrimination by sending a message that people with disabilities are not the type of visitor the company expects on their website.”

“Many of us enjoy curb cuts, elevators, and electric toothbrushes which can be attributed to the activism and creative ingenuity of people with disabilities,” she added. “Why wouldn’t companies be excited to include us? It’s a question that enters my mind daily as I still struggle to do basic things like read articles and purchase products online with my screen reader. I’d like to stop asking myself that question.”

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Melanie Ehrenkranz

Reporter at Gizmodo

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