By Najee Bartley
I first want to thank the participants who were willing to share their personal experience with me for the purposes of gaining perspective on online accessibility.
As a technologist, websites, data and emails are a part of my every day. As a human, conversations and experiences fuel my spirit. My goal is to infuse the two together so that the emails and websites we technologists create provide the absolute best experiences for everyone, specifically the visually impaired. The interview below was conducted solely for understanding, solely to gain knowledge from our visually impaired community.
I’m excited to share what I heard and learned with you. I hope that it will further enhance email communication and human computer interaction for visibly impaired users. Let’s take off our lens and see through their eyes. Let’s begin.
Q: Can you describe what it’s like to shop online?
Interviewee #1: Shopping online makes the whole process a lot more independent. If I were to go into a store to shop, I would need to take a family member with me or rely on an assistant shopper. Family members usually provide more detail because they are familiar with your impairment. Assistant shoppers sometimes hand me a box and say, “this is the best out there,” without much more information. All I feel is a box.
Since the pandemic, there has been a central focus on improving the online shopping experience. It’s been a better and smoother process.
Interviewee #2: It depends. For instance, I try to avoid clothes shopping online, especially for other people. It’s difficult to select the right size, and websites usually direct you to the sizing chart at the bottom of the screen, which I can’t see.
And often, the description of the item on the website and in the alt text is vague, like “cool sporty hoodie.” What does that mean? What color is sporty? Is there a logo or a picture on it?
Q: What website improvements would better enhance your experience?
Interviewee #1: More online accessibility at the small business level. When I want a specialty item like a guitar or piano, I’m not going to a big company website. I’m going to visit my local music store’s website, but this group usually relies heavily on images without descriptions.
Interviewee #2: Exactly what I mentioned above. More attention to providing detailed alt text on all aspects of the website, including the logo. Logos don’t have to be as descriptive as the product image, but companies should still include a description of it to provide us a complete picture of what we’re looking at.
Q: Let’s talk email communication. What emails do you like to receive and why?
Interviewee #1: I love emails with detailed subject lines like those that are so specific that I don’t even have to click on them to open. And if I do end up opening it, I like detailed descriptions of what they want me to purchase or the discount they are trying to offer.
Interviewee #2: I like to receive emails when I know who they are from. And when I’m not being flooded by emails. The companies which usually flood my inbox are usually the ones with the most inaccessible emails and websites.
What email improvements would better enhance your experience?
Interviewee #2: Labeled buttons with alt text and descriptions of discounts being offered. Sometimes I get an email that says 50% off. I’m left sitting there thinking 50% off what? I must click the link to find out.
Interview #1: I agree with everything already mentioned. The only thing I would add sort of touches on websites more than email, but the checkout process can be a hassle. It’s challenging to find where to click and add things to your cart or remove items from your cart.
If you could give any advice to technologists, what would it be?
Interviewee #1: Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. If you were blind, you would still want to shop and do it independently, correct? How would you feel if a portion of your experience was taken from you or not even accurately displayed for you?
Interview #2: Pay attention to detail.
Overall, my takeaways from these conversations were numerous and eye-opening. I’ve chosen and am excited to share this interview with you in hopes that it will put an end to years of disconnect between technology and the visibly impaired community and create improvement in online accessibility.