Tesco access updated – and criticised

Via Accessify, Tesco have come under fire for their re-launched access site (combined with the main site, but with a preference to switch to a frames and image-free version).

Perhaps I was biased by reading one point of view first, but it seemed like the radio equivalent of a mugging!

The whole interview is based on the experience Tom Walker has with using Jaws on the site. However, his taking a week and a half of messing about to find the access version says more about his lack of experience with screen readers (or even just keyboard access?) than it does about Tesco’s site.

As part of training people in accessibility, a demo with Jaws is a great way of highlighting why the techniques we describe make a difference. People sit down in front of a screen reader, bring up a site they know, and try to do something on it (e.g. buy a book). They can’t see the screen, and are helped with the basic keyboard commands.

However, one thing is made very clear:

By all means download and try a screen reader, but to do not make design decisions based on your experience with it. It’s just too different from someone who uses the technology on a daily basis, because they have to.

It is from in-experienced usage that you get things like phonetically spelling accesskey links (which then completely fail if the person uses a different voice setting from the developer!).

It was pretty obvious that the journalist new little of screen reader usage, and his criticism was unfounded. From there, the interview simply ran with that theme.

I’m not endorsing the Tesco site – I haven’t used it for ages. A brief look now shows a fairly straightforward no-frills site once you select the access version. The IA is somewhat confusing to me (e.g. “extra” is a top-level item), but I imagine changing the IA would be a league of complexity and work above changing the front-end code!

Anyway, as someone who often assesses sites for accessibility, it is very disheartening when a site (not matter how good or bad) is critisised on such a faulty basis.

Tesco’s IT manager Nick Lansley desribes his experience. We (at work) have been arguing against separate versions of sites for accessibility for a while, and I think the new version is a step in the right direction. There is a lot of potential to be had from using web standards on the site in general, but from what Ian said on Accessify they probably know that already.