Accessibility and Shopping Online
Every Christmas you hear about how much more people are buying online -- it's not just because it's easier than fighting the malls and the traffic only to find you couldn't get what you wanted. As our population ages it's becoming the ONLY option for shopping -- as the Boomers get older, there are more people with vision problems, mobility issues, and a whole slew of disabilities that make it nearly impossible for these folks to shop on their own, and even worse during the Christmas rush.
About a year ago, I was approached by Michael Dorety who has been working for a long time addressing these issues. He's no stranger to complicated technical projects having built hardware platforms for the deaf, worked with Microsoft and their vendors to create accessibility tools that actually work, and a lot of other projects that boggle the mind.
But, creating an easy way to let shoppers find products in an accessible environment turned out to be a lot tougher than he had thought. For starters, there's the whole set of 508 Accessibility regulations -- you know it's going to be complicated pretty much any time you reference a body of Federal law, and when mix in a bunch of technology... well let's just say it isn't easy making things easy.
Then, add the fact that just because you're 508 compliant doesn't mean you're actually "screen reader friendly" -- you can follow all the rules and still have a confusing site that's just plain frustrating for someone who can't see all the little clues you think are so obvious.
It's been a bumpy road, but we all came together and got the site up and running at EmpowerEveryone.com. The site lets visitors search for products in a quick, easy to use format -- it's not perfect as the retailers still take your money, and their sites aren't necessarily up to snuff, but we can lead folks to the products they're looking for and ease the frustration.
I'm looking forward to seeing what happens over the next few months as the site starts to get some attention. We've been very careful to include a lot of beta testers with real-world tools, but this is a big, tricky world out there with different people -- so, if you get a chance, check out EmpowerEveryone.com and let me know what you think.