Enabling Disabled Shoppers

In a global retail economy where customers can research, compare and shop for the best deals on products and services anytime and from anyplace, should a retailer ignore a market of more than 50 million people in the U.S.? Internet retailers are in a particularly unique position to take advantage of the market for people with disabilities. Of the 55 million people with disabilities in the United States, according to a Census Bureau report: 29.8% have mobility limitations; 24.8% have limited hand use; 16.4% have cognitive disabilities; 11.9% have vision impairments; 3.7% have speech or language difficulties. But how does one take advantage of that technology if she is deaf or blind, or has mobility challenges? Today the answer, generally, is she can’t. For example, a kiosk that has only touch-screen input is challenging, and sometimes impossible, for a person with a hand tremor to use. In addition to the basic touch-screen capability, an accessible kiosk requires an audio output, an alternative keypad or full keyboard for input, and improved navigation of the screen content. With the audio output, also known as text-to-speech, a blind user can plug in a set of headphones and listen to what is being read from the screen in a logical manner. The same integrated accessibility process should apply in the I.T. world in building and updating web sites: “alternative text,” also known as ALT-TEXT, is a short, succinct description of a graphic, chart or picture most commonly seen by sighted users when placing a mouse cursor over a picture or graphic. With the ALT-TEXT description, the screen reader can read to the blind user the description of the graphic and place into context what she is navigating. More

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