November 2010 Issue  Volume 11  Number 7

Website Reviews

Website Evaluation: Directions for Me, a Gift to People Who Can't Read the Box

I can't count the times I have stood in drugstore or supermarket aisles, looking at products with a friend or relative, while wishing I could read everything on the package. Directions, ingredients, and the name of the manufacturer are all available at a glance--unless you can't see to read the mystery print on the package.

The new Directions for Me website, a service of Horizons for the Blind, is an amazingly simple and beautiful solution. Directions, ingredients, and product details for over 300,000 food, health, beauty, and other products have been gathered into one place for easy examination. The site's welcome message claims that it has been designed to be 100 percent accessible with text-to-speech, magnification, and braille output products, and the claim is definitely well founded.

When first launching the site, you'll find a simply constructed, easy-to-navigate page. There are links to decrease and increase font size, links to the various categories of products, and a search box for entering a specific product. It is gloriously simple, with no unnecessary clutter and verbiage to confuse or frustrate the screenreader user.

Every page has the three primary links: Food, Health and Beauty, and Other. Clicking on one of these links nets a list of alphabetized product category links. Clicking on Food, for instance, gets a resulting alphabetized list ranging from Baby Food to Wine, with such categories as Beer, Cat Food, Dog Food, Frozen Pizza, and Pickles along the way.

Clicking on the Baking link results in 190 pages of alphabetized products. Each page contains about 20 items. You can browse the product names easily by producing a links list with your screenreader, or you can jump around by page number. Jumping to page 19 under Baking, for example, begins a long list over several pages of Betty Crocker products. If you click on, say, Betty Crocker Muffin & Quick Bread Mix, you immediately find the following directions:

You will need: 3/4 cup milk; 1/4 cup vegetable oil; 2 eggs. 1. Heat oven to 425 degrees F (or 400 degrees F for dark or nonstick pan). Place paper baking cups in 12 regular-size muffin cups, or grease (or spray with cooking spray) bottoms of muffin cups. 2. Stir muffin mix, milk, oil and eggs in medium bowl just until blended (batter may be lumpy). Divide batter among muffin cups (each about 2/3 full). 3. Sprinkle streusel over batter in each cup; press lightly. Bake 16 to 21 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 5 minutes (if you did not use paper baking cups, run knife around edges of cups before removing); carefully remove from pan. Cool completely before storing. High altitude (3,500-6,500 ft): Use paper baking cups. Stir 1 tbsp flour into dry muffin mix. Betty's tips: Use an ice cream scoop to fill muffin cups with batter.

Did you know, by the way, that there are nearly 20 different flavors of Betty Crocker's Super Moist Cake Mix? You'll find directions, ingredients, and product details for every one of them on this site.

If you go back to the homepage and select the Health and Beauty link, you'll again find a long list of alphabetized categories. You can look up products for cold remedy, first aid, face care, hair care, or whole groups of products by one manufacturer such as Covergirl or Neutrogena. Again, each selected link results in another alphabetized list of product links, about 20 per page.

If you're not interested in food or beauty products, Directions for Me still has much more to offer. That Other link, the third of the available primary links to products, lists an amazing collection of items. Here you'll find perhaps the longest list of categories, including such products as air fresheners, cleaning supplies, computers and accessories, office supplies, paper, paint, toys, and much more.

Under Appliances, for instance, there are five pages of products, including such items as a Cuisinart coffeemaker and Signature Classics toaster oven. It warrants pointing out that for these kinds of products, only the information that appears on the package is included, such as how many cups of coffee or slices of toast the unit can accommodate. This is not a location for the user's manual of such electronics, which would be found inside the box. That said, the box information is far more than what many of us who are blind or visually impaired are accustomed to accessing with household products. Following the link for Brooms, for example (where there are 8 pages of products, including an array of brooms, mops, and electric floor-cleaning products), the Shark Cordless Sweeper offers the following information under product details:

30-minute cleaning time. Rechargeable. Lightweight. Powerful motorized brush roll. Exclusive swivel steering. Quick 'n' quiet. Rechargeable sweeper. For life's real messes! From dirt on a carpet to soggy pieces of food, to metal nuts on a hard floor. Any kind of mess! Any carpet, any floor! Exclusive swivel steering: Patented maneuverability for instant direction change. Powerful brush roll: Picks up small and large particles of dirt. Long reach/low profile: Access the hardest areas to clean at any angle. Powerful brush roll cleaning-action that cleans any carpet or any floor by depositing dirt, dust and debris into an easy to empty dirt tray! Large capacity dirt tray removes easily for quick emptying. Low profile and long reach...perfect for cleaning hard to reach areas under furniture. Converts easily to a hand held sweeper...ideal for stairs. Low noise design. All surface cleaning action. For household use only. ETL-Intertek listed. Made in China.

Once you've selected a product, navigation is a piece of cake. Multiple-level headings have been skillfully used to make navigation a breeze. Level 2 headings are always product names, and at level 3, you will find Directions, Ingredients, Manufacturer, Warnings, UPC information, and so on. Every page again offers the links increase or decrease font size, home, and back to the original category being examined.

If you aren't going to the site, but want information for a particular package you are holding in your hand, the search function appears on every page and works exactly the way we wish search functions on all websites would.

Going to the site for the first time, for instance, I typed "Olay Age Defying Cleanser" in the search box, and immediately read that there was one result. Clicking on the link, I read the following:

Olay Age Defying Daily Renewal Cleanser.

Directions: For best results, use every time you cleanse. Wet your face. Dispense a generous amount of product (about 2 pumps) and gently massage over face and neck. Rinse thoroughly with water and dry.

Product Details: Beta hydroxy complex with gentle microbeads. Reveals fresher, radiant skin. Cleanses by gently lifting away dirt, oil and make-up. Renews and reveals by gently lifting away dull, dry skin to start reducing the signs of aging. Leaves skin noticeably soft and smooth the minute you cleanse.

Ingredients: Water, PPG-15 Stearyl Ether, Glycerin, Stearyl Alcohol, Cetyl Betaine, Salicylic Acid, Distearyldimonium Chloride, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Oxidized Polyethylene,Cetyl Alcohol, Steareth-21, Behenyl Alcohol, PPG-30, Steareth-2, Fragrance, Disodium EDTA.

Warnings: For external use only. Do not get into eyes. As with all facial cleansers, if product gets into eyes, rinse thoroughly with water. If skin or eye irritation develops, discontinue use. Keep out of reach of children.

Manufacturer: Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, OH 45202 800-395-0737

UPC: 00075609001017

Horizons for the Blind is a nonprofit organization based in Crystal Lake, IL, founded by Camille Caffarelli in 1977. At the time, she was a young, blind widow and mother of three small children, and initially operated the business out of her basement. Today, she is still the executive director of Horizons, an organization boasting 40 employees, 70 percent of whom are blind or visually impaired. The organization produces materials in braille, large print, and audio formats focused primarily on crafts, cooking, gardening, and inspirational reading. According to its mission statement, Horizons for the Blind is committed to improving the quality of life for people who are blind by "increasing accessibility to culture, education, recreation, employment, and consumer information."

If the launch of Directions for Me is any indication, Horizons for the Blind is living up to that mission with impressive aplomb.

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