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amazon's new web site in wired:

From: David Poehlman <poehlman1@home.com>
Date: Thu, 20 Dec 2001 09:31:02 -0500
Message-ID: <00ca01c18962$f4675ea0$c2f20141@mtgmry1.md.home.com>
To: "wai-ig list" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Amazon Access: How Accessible?
By Kendra Mayfield
 2:00 a.m. Dec. 20, 2001 PST

Amazon.com's new site for the blind or visually impaired doesn't
 deliver the goods, critics say.

 The streamlined, alternative version of its text-only site has less
 text and graphics, which company executives hope will make it easier
 visually impaired users using screen readers or other access software
to shop

 But instead of improving access, critics say that Amazon has simply
 created a "second-best" alternative to Amazon's (AMZN) main e-commerce

"On any number of levels, this is the wrong approach," said Joe Clark,
 an accessibility consultant and author. "Having a separate, text-only
 with no graphics that's hidden from view where you can't do the same
things as
 you can on the real site is the wrong idea."

 See also:
 Web News Still Fails Blind Users
 Disabled Access Now, More or Less
 Fed Opens Web to Disabled
 There's no biz like E-Biz
 Discover more Net Culture

 The Amazon Access site was specifically designed to meet requests from
 visually impaired customers who wanted a fast and simple interface for
 and buying items, said Robert Frederick, manager of Amazon.com

 The site includes fewer links on a page and fewer search results,
 allowing users to get through a complete page in a shorter period of
 While it might take 4 to 5 minutes for customers using screen access
 to navigate through Amazon's main site or text-only site, they can
 Amazon's Access site in well under a minute.

"It's a much different experience when you have just a few links on a
 page," Frederick said.

 Accessibility experts have pilloried Amazon's new site since it
 launched quietly earlier this month. Critics say that the site lacks
some of
 the most basic elements of accessibility design.

"Though someone claims that this website was created for people with
 disabilities, I don't believe it," Jim Thatcher, an accessibility
 said in an online discussion.

"They have done none of the simplest things, like labeling input
 elements or 'alt text' on the one or two images that appear on every
page. I
 believe this is an experiment for a site for small devices. If it were
 for people using screen readers, don't you think at least the 'alt
text' would
 have been added?"

"It was not made for accessibility," Clark agreed. "It was made for
 wireless devices."

 By removing some of the graphics and text from its Access site, Amazon
 has removed some of the information about products and services that
 available on Amazon's main site, Clark said.

 But while the Access site doesn't offer all of the same services as
 Amazon's standard site, it has been customized for those using screen
 software, Frederick said. Customers may get an entirely different
 depending on what type of browser or software they use to access the

 Users can still browse, search for items and receive personalized
 recommendations, just as they can on Amazon's main site.

"It's the same functionality, but it's just a different experience,"
 Frederick said. "It's not everything, but it does have the features
that our
 customers are most interested in. It's completely tailored for a
specific type
 of user."

 Amazon said some visually impaired customers will still prefer to use
 its text-only site, which has been in place since the company was
founded in

"We anticipate that some users will gravitate to the Access site, but
 we're not expecting everyone to use it," Frederick said. "There may be
 features that they would like to add. We hope that they would use the
 text-only site for that."

 But critics say that designers should focus on creating a single,
 fully accessible website, rather than creating alternative sites.

 According to the W3C guidelines, developers should create an
 alternative solution only as a last resort:

"Content developers should only resort to alternative pages when other
 solutions fail because alternative pages are generally updated less
often than
'primary' pages.... Before resorting to an alternative page, reconsider
 design of the original page; making it accessible is likely to improve
it for
 all users."

"Providing an alternative version of the site is not the preferred
 solution," Denise Wood, a lecturer at the University of South
Australia, said
 in an online discussion. "We need to aim to provide one accessible site
 all users. While it is commendable that Amazon (has) at least developed
 website that is more accessible, this should have been a consideration
for the
 main site rather than as a second-best alternative."

 Accessibility expert Kynn Bartlett disagrees, however.

"Alternative versions of websites are not only a good idea, they're a
 great idea and are necessary for the evolution of the Web and for
 access to content by people with disabilities," he said.

 It's easy for companies like Amazon to provide alternate interfaces
 for various users, including those with disabilities, non-English
speakers and
 hand-held users, Bartlett said.

"The bigger challenge -- and this is where Amazon may have fallen
 short -- is understanding how best to tailor those alternate interfaces
to the
 needs of the specific user group," Bartlett said.

 Critics say it would be easy for Amazon to fix the problems with its
 main site by adding "alt text" on titles and skipping navigation links.

 Unlike multimedia sites, which are often difficult to make accessible,
 e-commerce sites like Amazon.com are easy to remedy, Clark said.

"The idea that e-commerce sites are hugely inaccessible simply isn't
 true. The inaccessibility could be fixed readily. Any qualified
 expert could fix the problems on the Amazon homesite in about an hour."

 Still, some applaud Amazon's efforts to address accessibility issues.

"I believe that this shopping site is an order of magnitude more
 accessible than almost all other shopping sites, certainly all major
 sites," Thatcher said. "They have tried to present the essence of
 without all the glitz, and I think they have done a very good job of

"Let's not be too quick to condemn Amazon for their goals, even if
 their implementation may need work," Bartlett said.

 Related Wired Links:

 The Fully Accessible Harry Potter
 Nov. 17, 2001

 Holiday E-Sales Prospects Not Bad
 Nov. 7, 2001

 Web News Still Fails Blind Users
 Sep. 27, 2001

 Disabled Access Now, More or Less
 June 25, 2001

 Disabled Web Access Made Easier
 May 30, 2001

 Fed Opens Web to Disabled
 Dec. 21, 2000

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Received on Thursday, 20 December 2001 09:30:47 UTC

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