Amazon.com and NFB join forces

Amazon.com and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) have entered into a cooperation agreement to make the Amazon.com web site and e-commerce platform fully accessible to the blind. Read the press release.

Amazon.com has long been my personal accessibility whipping boy. The accessibility of the site seems to change almost daily. At times nearly every image has alt text (including on very rare occasions, their logo!) and at other times there’s nary an accessibility feature to be found. Their home page is a great case for analysis. It currently features about everything, including very bad accessibility (41 images missing alt text and not a single form label), flawed accessibility approaches (a hidden ‘accessible’ version that is really a mobile version with the same accessibility issues), over 1200 HTML validation errors, and even valid and appropriate alt text in very random places. Certainly it is a very large site that would require much effort and work to bring to even minimal accessibility requirements and we also know that they have made efforts in the past.

In the agreement posted on the NFB site (which rather ironically, is in untagged PDF format), the plans for this agreement are outlined. By my interpretation of this, Amazon.com and its syndicated store web sites will implement “Full and Equal Access” by December 31, 2007. “Full and Equal Access” is defined as allowing screen reader users to enjoy the same features of the web site as sighted users with a substantially equivalent ease of use. Amazon will then continue to implement “technical measures” so that 3rd party sites, including Merchant.com, that rely on Amazon services can also implement accessibility. Jim Thatcher is named as NFB’s consultant that will be, with an accessibility committee, advising Amazon.com. Of note, there is no indication or obligation that either party will address anything beyond screen reader accessibility and there are no measurable levels of access defined beyond the rather nebulous definition of “Full and Equal Access”.

I certainly hope that this agreement can really bring about long-term improvements. Though after viewing NFB’s own web site, I must admit that I have low expectations. I rarely call out groups for having accessibility issues on their sites, but it does raise concerns when an organization that has a web site with many significant accessibility issues will be advising the world’s most popular online store. With that said, this agreement between industry and accessibility advocates may become a role model for future accessibility work.

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