Greeting Card Sites, Are They Accessible to People with Vision Loss?
Ah, fall is in the air. Lazy summer days on the beach are just fading memories. Halloween has come and gone and I am still finding candy corn in between the sofa cushions. The leaves are turning red and orange and storefront windows are filled with images of gobbling turkeys and Pilgrims with funny socks and buckles on their shoes. Believe it or not, Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and with it comes holiday gift shopping. Yes that time-honored tradition of spending too much money on gifts for people you may or may not like is here again.
I have decided this year that I am going to put forth some real effort to remember the special people in my life. I thought about possible gift ideas, but this year I am going to dazzle them with holiday cards. Not just your run-of-the-mill greeting card from the local stationery store, but exciting electronic cards (e-cards) with goofy animation and humorous sound effects and music.
Of course, the real concern is the accessibility and usability of the websites that provide these e-cards. Judging from a quick perusal of the Web, the most popular e-card websites are 123Greetings, American Greetings, and Hallmark. My evaluations were performed on a laptop running Windows 7, Internet Explorer 8, and the latest version of a popular screenreader.
My first impressions of the 123Greetings website were pretty favorable. The site had plenty of headings to take visitors to areas of the site that highlighted the various cards available. I had no idea there were so many oddball reasons for sending cards. Because it was only October when I visited the site, the holiday cards were not front and center yet; finding them required some investigation. Using my screenreader's quick navigation keys, I located the well-labeled search field. Using the search terms of "Christmas," "Chanukah," and "Kwanza," I performed three searches and was presented with search results for each holiday. Each of the 10 search results was presented at heading level three and contained a link, a description of the card, and information related to user ratings and number of views. After the last result, there was a link to display an additional 10 results from the category.
Personalizing the Card
Things were moving pretty smoothly up to this point and I was feeling pretty good. As soon as I clicked on the link of the card I wanted, I heard about one to two seconds of music. My heart sunk for a moment as I thought I would have to contend with holiday music as I personalized my e-card. I don't have a problem with holiday music per se, but it does interfere with my screenreader. Fortunately, the music stopped right away. The next page was filled with multiple frames and lots of Flash content. Adobe Flash is a popular platform used to add interactive features to websites. It could have been advertising, but because some of the buttons were unlabeled, it was difficult for me to tell. I pulled up a list of headings, but on this screen, there were only two. I navigated to the first one because my screenreader announced the holiday I was trying to find a card for. I found all sorts of brackets and text describing the holiday, but thought I might have been lost. This was followed by links to sign up, log in, a "tweet" button (for Twitter users), and a Facebook "like" button. The rest of the page was quite confusing, with a couple of buttons labeled "send this e-card" and links to rate the card or leave a comment. I also found a combo box labeled "change music" with different options for music, but I could not figure out how to hear samples. I finally decided I should probably try selecting the "send this e-card" button, even though that's what I thought I had already decided when I selected it from the previous list of choices.
On the next screen, I navigated to the first heading and kept my fingers crossed. As I started arrowing down, I was not encouraged when my screenreader repeated all sorts of information that I was not looking for: "left double bracket" and so on. Finally, I heard "Please fill in the details below, write your personal message, and click 'Send this e-card.'" I continued to arrow down and found edit fields for my name and e-mail address, as well as a place to type my message. There were even accessible combo boxes to select my desired font and links to customize the card's look and feel.
Fair warning: The edit field for the message does not behave like a typical edit field. I had to tab out of it because I was unable to toggle modes with my screenreader, and when I did, I found myself beyond the next step. I needed to move backward with the arrow key to find the fields for entering recipient information. I entered the name and e-mail address of the recipient and moved on to the next area. When I tried to enter the date to send the card, everything started to go haywire. It was not possible to do so, so I clicked on the link for the calendar. This apparently is not accessible to screenreaders. Even though I could not figure out how to change the date, I decided to preview the card by activating the preview button. To the best of my knowledge, this did nothing. I was doggedly determined and went ahead and activated the send button. Is it really so bad that my wife gets her holiday card two months before the holiday? Doesn't it show how much I truly care for her?
The Bottom Line on 123Greetings
I had pretty high expectations from my first impressions on the homepage and the first set of search results. However, it pretty much went downhill from there. The screen is very cluttered, with a lot of repetition. I was afraid to click on anything without having read the entire page first, but the pages were extremely long.
Because I am going through the different companies in alphabetical order, the next site on my list was American Greetings. I was moderately concerned when I reached the homepage and found headings. I hadn't expected 22 of them. The good news is that they appear to be labeled appropriately and help the user to navigate a pretty busy site. There were certainly a handful of poorly labeled graphics, but I was pretty confident that I could avoid having to use them. I did encounter some inaccessible Flash content, but I am not sure what I missed because it was obviously not accessible. I could not find a search box anywhere on the homepage, but it appears as if nearly every occasion one could ever dream about sending an e-card for is well represented on the homepage. I clicked on holidays and moved onto the next screen.
Selecting the Card
The first thing I noticed was that the headings were out of sequence. Level-four headings came before level-two and -three headings. I pulled up a list of all headings and looked for one that would be the best fit for me. At level two, there is a heading for holidays. I arrowed down and activated the link for December. There, I learned I had 100 holiday e-cards to choose from. Once I selected the particular holiday I was looking for, I clicked on the link and the next page showed me a narrower list of categories for that holiday. Again, if you navigate using headings, you need to move past all of the level-four headings before you get to your selections, this time at level three. Be prepared to listen to your screenreader repeat the word list many times because the page is filled with them.
When I clicked on the link for funny cards, a video launched for something completely unrelated to the holiday I selected. This raises a big red flag for me. I think it was some form of advertisement. I was unable to find any play/pause controls or volume. I tapped the keyboard to move back one screen and the video stopped. I tried a couple more times and still found myself having to listen to this video commercial. Finally, I was able to select the link with the name of the card I wanted.
Customizing the Card
The moment I clicked on the card I wanted to personalize, music began blaring in my headphones. Luckily, it stopped after 10 seconds and I was not forced to hurl my laptop out the window. I am sure my boss is thankful for that.
One surprising feature on the site is the ability to send an e-card either to an e-mail address or Facebook account. From here, however, the process became confusing. I found a CAPTCHA with an audio alternative, but I was not sure if I needed to pass this test before I could continue. I moved past it and found a section called "Send this e-card and more." I clicked on the link to start my free trial; apparently, e-cards on this site are not free.
The form started out by asking for an e-mail address, but on the next screen, the radio buttons to select membership level were not labeled properly. This could lead to confusion. Fortunately, the rest of the form appears to be accessible. After completing the trial sign up, I found myself on a confirmation page, where my greeting card was waiting at level three. I clicked on the "personalize and send" button, which prompted more music. Luckily, it only lasted 10 seconds.
Unfortunately, this is where the fun came to a grinding halt. Try as I might, I could not figure out how to customize the card, select a recipient, or send the e-card. I started at the top of the page and moved all the way to the bottom, but none of the links or form controls appeared to make sense for the task at hand. There was a flash movie section that had a button labeled finished and some text telling me to press it when I was finished, but nothing else was accessible.
The Bottom Line
I don't recommend this site for people using a screenreader. If you figure out how to make the magic happen, please let us know.
I suppose the best-known name in the greeting cards world is Hallmark. In addition to e-cards, the website has lots of gift and holiday ideas. The homepage appeared to be accessible, with well-labeled graphics, form controls, and, my personal favorite, intelligently designed headings.
Selecting a Card
From the homepage, there are links to shop by product or by occasion, but I discovered the Quick Finder at heading level two to be an easy way to find what I was searching for. I simply selected "e-card" from the first combo box and then the holiday. If appropriate, the last box is for the type of person you are sending the e-card to, such as a child, a relative, or a friend depending on the different cards they have in that category. When selecting the occasion in the second combo box, the first several choices will be upcoming holidays in chronological order, but you can continue to hit your down arrow to find the usual suspects, such as anniversary, birthday, and get-well cards. Be sure to fiddle around with your screenreader if you are having trouble opening the combo box. You may need to toggle in and out of different modes in order to open the control. Don't forget to use alt and the up or down arrow to open and close the control. Tab over and activate the "find products" button.
The results page has one heading at level one, so that is where I started. At first I was a bit confused, but I tabbed around and finally found something that made sense. There is a combo box that allows you to control how many cards appear on the page, followed by links for the page number. There are also three combo boxes that allow you to change the order in which the cards are displayed, such as price, feature, and tone. The cards are listed as links and include the price. Hallmark offers both free cards and cards that are free if you sign up for their subscription plan. After selecting my desired e-card, I activated the link that took me to a new page. Keeping my fingers crossed, I navigated to the first heading and found some interesting information, including a note that let me know that the e-card could be personalized and that it also had both sound and motion. This was immediately followed by a level-two heading that told me the name of the e-card and the price. Finally, at heading level three, I found the link to personalize the card.
Unfortunately, this story does not have a happy ending. It is not possible to personalize the e-card using a screenreader. In fact, I could not figure out how to send an e-card even without personalizing it.
The Bottom Line
I would be hard pressed to recommend this site to anybody using a screenreader. The site is pretty accessible until you arrive at the final steps, which is too bad because the developers had done such a nice job up to that point.
It looks as if I may need to rethink my holiday plans this year. Because I won't be able to save some moolah by sending free e-cards, perhaps I'll need to search the Web for cheap gifts instead.
AFB has responded to the lack of accessible, large print eCards by creating our own. Visit www.afb.org/ecards to try it out. A small donation is required, but you can then send multiple cards to friends and family members.
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