Untangling the Web
Web Sites That Take You Places: Accessing Travel Web Sites with Low Vision
In today's budget-conscious economy, there is an increased focus on saving both money and time when traveling. One way many individuals accomplish this is through the use of travel web sites. These sites offer a convenient way to obtain airfare and airline tickets, hotel accommodations, rental cars, and vacation packages. A whole business trip or vacation can be planned and coordinated through the same web site. If you can be a little flexible, these sites can often offer significant savings over traditional travel booking methods.
Unfortunately, many of these web sites are not easily accessible to persons with low vision. Problems can be caused by lack of contrasting colors, poor formatting and layouts, cluttered screens, and trouble with navigation. Not only does this lack of accessibility make planning travel difficult for people with low vision, but being unable to plan a trip independently can induce a lot of frustration.
This article will look at the accessibility of four of the leading travel web sites used today by people at home and in the workplace: <www.travelocity.com>, <www.hotwire.com>, <www.expedia.com>, and <www.priceline.com>. We will focus on factors such as clutter, contrast, navigation, text description of graphics, use of graphics, and overall page layout. These factors are important to individuals regardless of whether or not they are using screen magnification software. Although some screen magnification applications have features that may correct some of the problems mentioned here, it is important to realize that there are problems on these sites.
Throughout the Travelocity site, the background is mainly white with colors such as black, blue, and red used for the type. The headings for the main sections of this web site are done in black, which makes for great contrast. However, section headings such as "Travel Tools" use two different colors for the type, which is unnecessary and confusing for the low vision reader. The main links at the top of the page do not have good contrast, unless a link is highlighted. If a link is not highlighted there is gray type on white background. If a link is highlighted, the background is blue and the type is white, which makes for good contrast. Navigating through this web site does not cause many problems, other than the fact that some of the main links are buried at the bottom of the page rather than on the top with the rest of the main links. When you tab through the site, you navigate directly to the main focus of the page without being taken through less important information first.
Graphics and text descriptions of images cause problems on this site. Both large and small graphics, mostly advertisements, are used throughout the site. Many of them flash and are distracting. The home page in particular has a large advertisement that distracts a viewer from the main focus of the page; you cannot help but focus on it. Some images do not have text descriptions (or alt-tags), making the images unusable for a low vision user who wants to know what an image depicts. Finally, the layout of the web site is not well organized. There is no consistency or formality. Each time you go to a new page you must adjust to a new layout and format.
On the Hotwire web site, clutter is also a problem. On a web page you will find information on special deals, advertisements, customer care questions and answers, and flashing graphics that are distracting, as well as the Hot-Fare Finder. The Hot-Fare Finder on each web page allows you to make reservations for travel plans, such as hotel reservations or car rentals. This feature is found in the same area of each page, making it easy to locate, but the surrounding information all looks the same, separated only by a yellow highlighted box. This can make navigation and scanning difficult and time-consuming. Because there is consistency as users navigate from page to page, however, navigation will become quicker with time and experience on the web site.
Contrast on Hotwire is good. White is mainly used as background and red, black, or blue are used for the type. The links at the top of the page have good contrast when they have the focus, with white foreground on red background. Graphics are used throughout Hotwire, and some blink and flash, which can be distracting. There are both small and medium-sized graphics. The main graphics have text descriptions explaining what the picture is depicting, but many of the advertisements do not. Once again, this makes it difficult for someone with low vision, who may not be able to make out the details of the graphic, to know what the image represents. Aside from these problems, this web site is put together consistently and informatively. With some time spent getting used to the formality, the web site can be accessible to users with low vision.
The Expedia web site is also cluttered. There is too much information on each page. It may take a user with low vision extra time to navigate successfully through this web site. Despite the clutter, however, the site is laid out in an organized fashion. The important information is located in the center of the page, while the less important information and advertisements are on the perimeter of the page. This is consistent as you navigate through each page of the site. The contrast on Expedia.com is decent. The important information in the center has good, bold contrast. The perimeter of each web page can cause difficulty because many shades of blue are used. Often, the background is light blue and the type is dark blue, making visibility blurry. The main focus of the page, Build Your Own Trip, located in the center of the home page, is outlined in orange with the background a pale yellow. Although the outlining is helpful, the box would be more visible if the background were a bolder color.
Navigation through this web site can be accomplished by tabbing. Tabbing takes you first through the main links on the home page, then to the extra information on the perimeter. The cursor reaches Build Your Own Trip last, even though this section is the main focus of the page. Navigating through the page takes a while and it is difficult to follow the tab marker as it moves.
Some of the graphics on this site blink and flash, but the use of graphics is limited, so this is not a big problem. Some of the images have text descriptions, but others, including the images in the Build Your Own Trip box, do not.
Of these four web sites, Priceline has the least amount of clutter. The main focus of the home page, Name Your Own Price Deals, is easily visible, with no surrounding clutter that would distract a user with low vision. The main links at the top of the page are well spaced and easily visible. Contrast is the biggest problem. Some areas have good contrast, using a white background and blue type. However, the lack of contrast on the main headings and perimeter of the site can make readability difficult. The perimeter uses different shades of blue, sometimes medium blue backgrounds with dark blue type, which tend to blur together. Some main headings use pale blue as background with white type, which also tends to blur.
As with the Expedia web site, navigation of Priceline can be accomplished by tabbing. Tabbing takes you through the main links at the top of the page, followed by the links on the perimeter of the page. You reach the main focus of the page, Name Your Own Price, last. Navigation would be easier if Name Your Own Price were earlier in the tab order of the main page.
The layout of the web site is well organized. The spacing between sections is good, allowing users to differentiate each area of the page from areas next to it. Graphics on this web site are limited, small, and not distracting, and some pages have no graphics. Text descriptions are used for the main images, but some advertisement graphics do not have text descriptions. Overall, this web site is well organized and fairly easy to navigate, with contrast being the most significant problem.
The Bottom Line
There are many factors that go into making a web site accessible to low vision users. As people become more dependent on the Internet to accomplish everyday tasks, these factors become more important and vital. If you are a web surfer with low vision searching for the most accessible travel web site, Priceline and Expedia have the least amount of clutter, the most information located centrally, and the best contrast. They are reasonably easy to navigate, and the information is most easily at your fingertips.
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