Shopping site woos disabled users

The blind and visually-impaired can now go to Tesco's Web site to do their weekly shop.

The blind and visually-impaired can now go to Tesco's Web site to do their weekly shop.

Tesco has launched a new version of its successful e-commerce site, to address the needs of the visually-impaired and to win more business.

The new site uses simple design in order to improve service and encourage customers to complete transactions, Tesco said. The site has been built to offer fast downloads and allow access from various types of devices.

It was launched in response to a campaign by the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) to encourage companies with a Web presence to do more to meet the needs of blind and partially sighted people.

The site is designed for customers who want to use access technologies such as voice-screen readers, or who wish to override default font sizes and page colours to make information clearer.

It is a stripped-down version of Tesco's original site. Instead of relying on graphics and pictures, each page contains just a few links that point users in the direction of the shopping areas they need. Speech software can be used to read out the text, letting users fill their shopping carts by pressing only the enter key.

To create the site, Tesco used the HTML 3.2 standard but without frame sets, graphics, cascading style sheets or browser scripts. Tesco has kept the HTML code as short as possible so that pages can be downloaded quickly over slow Internet connections.

The site's stripped-down layout also makes it suitable for use via digital television, as well as personal digital assistants and other handheld devices.

The two million people in the UK with serious sight problems are potentially a large market for online firms. However, there are also legal reasons for taking their needs into account--the RNIB pointed out that firms ignoring the needs of the visually-impaired might face charges under part three of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

So far there have been no prosecutions under the act in the UK, but there have been cases in the US and Australia under similar laws. In the US, Internet service provider AOL was forced to settle out of court and pledge to improve its service within a year, following complaints by disabled users.