User Experience Narrative: Listening to Amazon.com

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Maximum Accessibility: Making Your Web Site More Usable for Everyone
By John M. Slatin,, Sharron Rush
Table of Contents
Chapter 2.  User Experience: Born to Shop


Let's begin our examination with something simple let's visit a well-known e-commerce site and try to buy something. Experience the first in a series of visits that I (John) made to Amazon.com's Web site as we developed the material for this book. Figure 2-1 shows Amazon's "recommendations," which are based on powerful software that correlates previous purchases with those of other shoppers who've bought the same or similar items.

Figure 2-1. Screen shot of the home page of the Amazon.com Web site. Accessed July 9, 2001, at http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/subst/home/home.html/102-7268157-7665745. Used with permission.

graphics/02fig01.gif

A recommendation for a new CD by an Irish band, the Chieftains, appears in the center of the screen. The recommendation is surrounded by links to other items and other sections of the massive Amazon.com site. On the left side of the screen, for example, we are invited to search among all products or browse for our favorite books and other items. On the right side, we are offered the opportunity to save 50 percent on food processors or to take a look at something new.

But shoppers who use screen readers and talking browsers have a different experience. What I hear from my screen reader, JAWS, sounds like this:

Amazon.com dash dash Earth's biggest selection

Image map link href=nsb underline gateway slash one hundred two dash seven million two hundred sixty eight thousand one hundred fifty seven dash seven million six hundred sixty five thousand seven hundred forty five

Image map link href equals nwl underline gateway slash one hundred two dash seven million two hundred sixty eight thousand one hundred fifty seven dash seven million six hundred sixty five thousand seven hundred forty five

Image map link href equals nia underline gateway slash one hundred two dash seven million two hundred sixty eight thousand one hundred fifty seven dash seven million six hundred sixty five thousand seven hundred forty five

Image map link href equals nfd underline gateway slash one hundred two dash seven million two hundred sixty eight thousand one hundred fifty seven dash seven million six hundred sixty five thousand seven hundred forty five

Image map link href equals nh underline gateway slash one hundred two dash seven million two hundred sixty eight thousand one hundred fifty seven dash seven million six hundred sixty five thousand seven hundred forty five

Image map link href equals nh underline gateway slash one hundred two dash seven million two hundred sixty eight thousand one hundred fifty seven dash seven million six hundred sixty five thousand seven hundred forty five

Image map link href equals nw underline gateway. . . .

And so on, through seven more image map links that sound numbingly similar to the ones transcribed above, until we come to something that's a little more intelligible but still frustratingly hard to understand:

Link graphic mini dash tab slash top navbar dash button dash books

Link graphic mini dash tab slash top navbar dash button dash electronics

Link graphic mini dash tab slash top navbar dash button dash music

Link graphic mini dash tab slash top navbar dash button dash dvd

Link graphic mini dash tab slash top navbar dash button dash drugstore

Then, at last, after 14 image map links and five navigation-bar buttons that link to other sections of the giant online store, a greeting of sorts:

Hello, John Slatin. We have link recommendations for you.

Let's stop here for a few moments. What you have just read (or listened to) is what the JAWS screen reader reports in the absence of ALT text. And I never will hear the link to that Chieftains album: not only is it link number 60 of 163 links on the page (!), there's no ALT text for it, either. JAWS says only this:

P slash B zero zero zero zero zero three G five Oh dot zero one point one eight TLZZZZ

Catchy, isn't it? Figure 2-2 shows the Links List that appears in JAWS when I browse the Amazon.com home page.

Figure 2-2. JAWS Links List. A link identified as P/B000003G . . . is highlighted. This link corresponds to an image of the cover for the new CD by the Chieftains. Accessed July 9, 2001, at http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000003G5O/ref=pd_gw_qpt_1/102-7268157-7665745. Used with permission.

graphics/02fig02.gif

Closing the Sale

Let's suppose, for the sake of argument if nothing else, that I've actually decided I want to learn more about this new album. I've followed the link (P slash B and so on) to the Buying Info page for the album, Santiago (Figure 2-3).

Figure 2-3. Amazon.com's Buying Info page for the Chieftains' Santiago CD. Accessed July 9, 2001, at http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000003G5O/ref=pd_gw_qpt_1/102-7268157-7665745. Used with permission.

graphics/02fig03.gif

Some of the options are different than those shown in Figure 2-1, yet the screen layout is very similar. Information about the CD in question appears in the middle of the screen surrounded by navigation options and advertisements. The all-important purchasing tools are on the right-hand side, set off in a rectangular box whose background is a different color than the plain white of the page itself.

What I really want to do is to buy this album now and get on with my life I want to use the 1-Click options I set so painstakingly some time ago to make my purchase, and I'll be on my way.

There's just one hitch. The Buy now with 1-Click button doesn't have any ALT text! This means that there is no way my screen reader can identify it. I could go to 1-Click Settings and make my purchase from there, as some of my friends who are blind have reported they do but that's not "one-click" shopping, is it? But I have no choice. There's a link called Buy, but as far as I can tell it seems to be about buying gift certificates for my family and friends a nice thought, but not what I had in mind tonight. There is also a correctly labeled button called Add to Shopping Cart, but using this option to make purchases requires several steps, not just the one click that's available to sighted users. Using the Add to Shopping Cart button also means listening to all those graphical links and image map links without ALT text not just once but twice (at least if I want to review my shopping cart). Making any changes to the shopping cart requires listening carefully to hear the Delete option when it's spoken.

The barriers encountered in this experience are by no means rare. Usually they arise because companies are unaware that alternatives exist that increase the numbers of people who can use their services. We have the stick of government mandates (see Chapter 3) driving the move to accessibility, but we also have two juicy carrots to use: it is the right thing to do and, increasingly, it is the smart business thing to do, as we will see in Chapter 6, The Business Case for Accessibility.


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    Maximum Accessibility(c) Making Your Web Site More Usable for Everyone
    Maximum Accessibility: Making Your Web Site More Usable for Everyone: Making Your Web Site More Usable for Everyone
    ISBN: 0201774224
    EAN: 2147483647
    Year: 2002
    Pages: 128

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