August 6, 2009, 12:00 AM

Newegg takes the lead in making its web site accessible to blind people

The National Federation of the Blind has cited computer products retailer Newegg as the first online merchant to reach the foundation’s gold level accessibility certification in making its retail web site easy to use by blind shoppers.

The National Federation of the Blind has cited computer products retailer Newegg Inc. as the first online merchant to reach the foundation’s gold-level Nonvisual Accessibility Web Certification in making its retail web site easy to use by blind shoppers.

Newegg’s certification, which it achieved after a six-month accessibility project, dispels several myths in the retail industry that making web sites accessible to and usable by blind people is too costly and technologically difficult, says Anne Taylor, the director of the NFB’s accessibility technology team, which works with retailers and technology providers to help make web sites user-friendly for visually impaired people.

“One myth is that a retail web site has to be boring and dull to make it accessible, another is that web site accessibility is too costly,” Taylor says.

Although Newegg is the first to achieve the NFB’s gold-level certification, the retailer is among a growing number of merchants in various stages of making their sites more accessible to people with physical impairments that make it difficult if not impossible to use traditional web sites. The NFB is also working with Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc.’s iTunes site and Target Corp., whose legal settlement with the NFB earlier this year helped kick off more interest in retail web site accessibility, an NFB spokesman says.

In addition, retail pharmacy chain CVS Corp. recently announced it had agreed to work with the American Foundation for the Blind, the American Council of the Blind and the California Council of the Blind to make in-store payment card keypads and its retail web site more accessible to blind people. About a dozen other retailers that have signed similar agreements with these organizations (which are not affiliated with the NFB) include Dollar General Corp., Trade Joe’s Co. and Target Corp., says Mitch Pomerantz, president of the American Council of the Blind.

CVS has already installed in all of its stores tactile keypads equipped with headphones that let blind people hear the personal identification numbers they punch in for payment card identification transactions, and the retailer is deploying technology on its retail web site to make it more usable by blind and other physically handicapped people by the end of this year. CVS didn’t provide more details on the technology it’s deploying.

Newegg, No. 9 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, has deployed WorldSpace software from Deque Systems Inc. WorldSpace is designed to identify parts of a web site that don’t support applications like screen readers, which blind people use on their own computers to turn text and images on a web site into audio files, then take remediation steps such as properly tagging image files to make them readable by screen reader applications. Deque also uses its software to conduct monitoring and remediation services for retailers in outsourcing relationships.

Wes Dillon, who works directly with retailers as manager of corporate relations for Deque, says a good strategy for retailers is to start out with a highly focused accessibility project that serves their customers’ most important needs. For about $5,000 to $10,000, for example, an online retailer can make sure that customers using screen readers can conduct the basic process of searching for and finding a product, placing it in a shopping cart, and completing a purchase, he says.

That basically is what Newegg has done for starters, but it will now continue using the WorldSpace software to continue making other parts of its site more accessible, Dillon says.

"Newegg.com is fiercely committed to making our customer experience the very best it can possibly be for all our users-and that includes the more than 11.3 million Americans who live with vision-related disabilities,” says Bernard Luthi, the retailer’s vice president of marketing.

The NFB’s Taylor also notes that properly tagging image files on web sites can make them more readable by search engine spiders as well as by screen readers, helping to better optimize a site for natural search rankings. Taking additional steps such as enabling site users to enlarge the size of textual content also makes a site more usable by a growing number of aging Baby Boomers, she adds.

 

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