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There are some very simple techniques that digital marketers can use to check how accessible their communications are to people with disabilities, so I was rather surprised to receive this email from Amazon:

Amazon email with images switched off

I must declare an interest here. I like Amazon and am a regular customer. I particularly like the fact that I can use the Kindle app on my Android phone, my PC and my iPad and it makes sensible decisions for me. 

I even like some of the offers Amazon sends me based on my previous purchases.  But, I guess like many people, my Outlook mail is set to not download pictures automatically, hence the not very enticing offer above.

It should, of course, have looked like this:

 Amazon email with images switched on

A much more attractive offer.

This reminded me of one of the accessibility tips we give our clients. Check your site with images disabled to see how it would appear to the visually impaired and those using screen readers.

But surely, Amazon cares about accessibility and the millions of potential customers with visual impairments?  It couldn’t be that bad, or could it?

So I asked one of our accessibility experts to run the offer email through JAWS (the leading screen reader software used by visually impaired people to read their screens out loud to them) and this is what she told me.

It’s bad news for screen reader users, but not for the reasons we expected. The issue is with the layout of the information. The content is placed within tables (purely for format purposes) which makes them confusing and difficult to navigate through for screen reader users. 

The images that are downloaded don’t appear to have alt text (which in this instance is acceptable as the images are decorative) so JAWS users are presented with link text (which makes sense). But it’s very difficult to navigate through these links as the table makes the navigation much more complicated than it needs to be.

It’s not that there is a shortage of good advice out there, which leaves me with the rather surprising feeling that Amazon, like Four Seasons, does not care enough about visually impaired users to run even the simplest accessibility checks.

Tom Stewart

Published 16 March, 2012 by Tom Stewart

Tom Stewart is Executive Chairman at System Concepts, and a guest blogger at Econsultancy. System Concepts can be followed on Twitter here, and Tom is also on Google+.

35 more posts from this author

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Paul

Perhaps Amazon's market is too big for them to 'worry' about servicing what they may see as a 'niche' audience. I'm assuming the useability required would in their view be counterproductive to the way pages are structured for those people without visual impairment (I am visually impaired so may have an axe to grind).

over 4 years ago

Tom Stewart

Tom Stewart, Founder at System Concepts

Thanks Paul
you may be right but they are definitely wrong! The Employers Forum on Disability estimates that the spending power of disabled people in the UK is £80 billion a year! http://www.efd.org.uk/disability/disability-facts. Ok this inlcudes all disabilities but a heck of a 'niche'. Keep grinding your axe! best wishes
Tom

over 4 years ago

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Bufo Calvin

There is evidence that Amazon does care about accessibility:

* The licensing of RealSpeak text-to-speech from Nuance for the Kindle 2 (initially available for all books, until it was challenged by "rightsholders"). It was also included on the Kindle DX

* The licensing of the upgraded Vocalizer from Nuance for the Kindle 3 (now called a Kindle Keyboard) and Kindle Touch

* Amazon requiring that publishers using Kindle Direct Publishing not block text-to-speech access in order to qualify (along with other restrictions) for a royalty rate twice what is otherwise available

* Amazon including VoiceGuide audible menus on the Kindle Keyboard

* Amazon making available a free plug-in for Kindle for PC which makes it work with screen readers, even when the text-to-speech access is blocked

* Amazon having a version of the website optimized for screen readers

Those with print challenges also have the option to request text-only e-mails, which you may find helpful in the future:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/gss/ccp/

Sign-in may be required at the above site.

over 4 years ago

Tom Stewart

Tom Stewart, Founder at System Concepts

which makes their email strategy all the more suprising
Tom

over 4 years ago

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webhill

What "email strategy" is so surprising, Tom? Their default emails are formatted to please the vast bulk of recipients, who are not visually impaired and who spend more money when presented with images as well as text. Those who prefer plain text because they are unable to see images, or because they prefer to let their text-to-speech software process their emails, or because they just like to kick it old school and have email be all text like it was back in the day when Netscape was a glimmer in a programmer's eye, are always welcome to request text-only email. This seems like a perfectly appropriate way for a business to operate.

over 4 years ago

Tom Stewart

Tom Stewart, Founder at System Concepts

I'm not objecting to the use of images, more the distinctly unhelpful appearance with images disabled - I don't think it would be hard to satisfy both sets of needs.
Tom

over 4 years ago

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