Amazon.com reads WebAIM

For the last several years, we have been using the Amazon.com web site to demonstrate functionality of WAVE. We do this because it is a complex site that has some accessibility features, many accessibility problems, and frankly, because the accessibility of the site seems to change almost daily. We’re never quite sure what Amazon developers are going to fix and/or break each time the site changes, but it’s always some new accessibility disaster and/or success that we can find, analyze, and discuss.

Today in a training, I noticed that their link to the “accessible” version of their site was being hidden off-screen using CSS. In the past, they’ve used an invisible 1 pixel X 1 pixel image at the top of the page to alert screen reader users to this version of their site. But what was most interesting is that the CSS used to hide the link (position:absolute; left:0px; top:-500px; width:1px; height:1px; overflow:hidden;) is the exact code recommended by us in this WebAIM article.

Well, they say that imitation is the best flattery and I’m pleased to see that someone at Amazon.com is reading our site. I hope they continue to read and implement accessibility – how wonderful it would be if a high-profile online store stepped up and truly implemented accessibility.

Comments

  1. Justin Thorp

    That’s awesome that they are reading your site but isn’t the fact that they are still using an accessible version of their site still a bit depressing?

    You would have hoped that big corporations would have gotten the idea that “separate but equal” doesn’t really mean equal.

    In Amazon’s case, to say its “A different version of this web site containing similar content optimized for screen readers” is super misleading and gives the impression you will actually get “similar content” when actually it looks like they are just serving up the mobile version of their site.

  2. Jon Whiting

    I agree with everything Justin says. I’ll even add that their “accessible” version isn’t as accessible as it should be. For example:

    -The form elements don’t have labels.
    -The default search category is “Books.” This is inappropriate for an interface that is supposed to be “optimized for screen readers.” The default category should be “All Products.”
    -Regardless of your feeling towards the use of access keys (*cough* don’t use them *cough*), their application of access keys is poor (e.g. Access Key “1″ is “Auto”, “2″ is “Apparel” etc.).
    -The [strong] tag is used in place of true headings.

    However, I think there is a big difference between an “accessible version” of an inaccessible site and an “alternative version” that has been optimized for a certain population (in this case screen reader and mobile device users). It is almost always wrong to provide an accessible version of an inaccessible site, but an optimized alternative can be helpful. Amazon.com is a complex, sometimes confusing, site–a site that could benefit from an optimized version in addition to an accessible site.

    A few simple things, like appropriate alt text, the ability to skip repetitive navigation, true headings, etc., would make their main web site much more accessible; Amazon.com should definitely be able to meet and even exceed a minimal level of accessibility. If Amazon.com were accessible, a slim, stripped-down version of their site could still be a helpful alternative for some screen reader users, users of small screen devices, some users with cognitive disabilities, and others.