November 2011 Issue  Volume 12  Number 11

Website Accessibility

Online Holiday Shopping Using a Screen Reader: A Guide to Popular Retail Websites

With the holidays approaching, it's time to consider the gifts you'll give family and friends. Thanks to online shopping, you don't have to deal with the craziness of going to a store and trying to find the item you want—you can shop at your leisure any hour of the day or night.

This article will review the online shopping websites for Sears, Kmart Williams-Sonoma and two online retailers, and For these guides I used Windows XP with Internet Explorer 8 and Window-Eyes 7.5.

Getting Started

First, some general advice: When shopping during the holiday season, take your time and check various retailers for the same item. Sometimes there can be a big price difference. If you plan to shop on "Cyber Monday," the Monday after Thanksgiving, familiarize yourself with the websites you are going to use before the big day. Have items bookmarked so you can easily get to them. Don't wait until the last minute to do online shopping as sellers may run out of items or there might be a delay in shipping.

Before beginning the online shopping process, it's important to be familiar with your screen reader's navigation keys for forms, headings, finding specific words, tables, and links. It's frequently easier to navigate a page by hot keys than to go line by line. All retail websites require the user to input information via forms. These forms typically consist of edit boxes, check boxes, combo boxes, radio buttons, and some kind of button or link to activate the form. Most retail sites have the customer choose the shipping method with radio buttons.

Because you will be supplying personal information including your name, address and credit card numbers when you purchase items online, the importance of shopping on a reputable website cannot be overstated. Just because a website is on the Internet doesn't automatically mean it's reputable. A safe way to go is to shop using only the sites of familiar retailers or sites that you know are legitimate.


The homepage for Sears opens with 948 links and 4 forms. Most of the links are clearly labeled; many start with the words "shop" and "sale." On almost every page there were clusters of unlabeled links in pairs. The first link said "Return in 5" and underneath the link said "Get It Today." To get to the list of department links, find the word "appliances," then arrow down to hear the department links. Moving around the screen with your screen reader's headings hot key will give a quick summary of different departments.

There is a keyword form consisting of an edit box and search button (labeled only as "button"). The next form had an edit box labeled "What are you Shopping For?" and a find button. Both form controls were voiced. The next form was for finding store locations; most of the controls did not speak when Window-Eyes was out of browse mode. The final form is for signing up for e-mails from Sears. The edit box did not speak when Window-Eyes was out of browse mode. Once you enter your e-mail address, hitting the tab key brings you to the submit link.

I decided to get something from the fitness department but I wasn't quite sure what I wanted. I activated the "fitness" link and the new page loaded had over 1,100 links. By using the headings hot key, I was able to find the list of subcategories including treadmills, ellipticals, and strength and weight training. Above each link was a broken link that said "image na." I activated the "strength and weight training" link and my new page had over 900 links. Using the find hotkey I searched for the words "shop by category" and below was a list of narrowed subcategories. I chose "ab and core training." Using the form control hot key, I eventually got to a combo box that sorted my results. I found an exercise ball that looked interesting and activated its link. If I had known exactly what I wanted, I could have used one of the two search boxes. When I entered the terms "exercise ball" in the second search box, I got a lot of results, many of which were not what I wanted.

Before continuing with the purchase of the exercise ball, I wanted to learn more about it. I found the word "overview" and below it was the product description. I found the "add to cart" link, but when I activated it, nothing happened. I tried again with the same result. Next I went to the top of the page and searched for the word "cart" and there in my cart were two exercise balls. Although I tried many times to remove the additional ball by activating the "remove" link, my merchandise total indicated that both were still in my cart. With sighted assistance I learned that at the bottom of the page is a form that appears when the remove link is activated. The controls are not labeled. The form asks whether you want to remove the item or cancel the action. The first unlabeled button is to remove the item and the second unlabeled button is to cancel the action. The check out button is clearly labeled. Unfortunately, many of the form controls in the registration form are not.

Live help for the Sears site is available at (800) 697-3277.


The Kmart homepage loaded with 347 links. The first search form asks for a keyword, then there's a category combo box and in between is the search button. Unfortunately the form controls were not labeled when Window-Eyes was taken out of browse mode in order to complete the form. The "What are you shopping for?" edit box and search button did speak. There is also a form to find the closest Kmart store.

On the homepage, navigation by headings does not work. To find the location of the list of departments, find the word "feedback." Slightly below that word is a list of department links. If Kmart is promoting a holiday or event, the links to those items will come before the alphabetical list of links. I used the first search form and typed "earrings" in the edit box, selected "jewelry" in the combo box and activated the search button. The next page loaded with 467 links. I found my results by hitting the form key until I found a results sorting combo box. I could sort my results in several ways including best sellers, and lowest to highest or highest to lowest in price. By default, the combo box is set to relevance. Each result had a check box for comparison, a broken link, the name of the item price and a link to add the item to your shopping cart.

I found a pair of earrings that looked interesting so I activated the link. The full description was located towards the bottom of the page. The easiest way to find descriptions is to find the words "product description." As with many online shopping websites there was also a list of other items purchased by people who bought the featured item. To add an item to the shopping cart, activate the "Add to Cart" link towards the top of the page. Each entry in the cart has radio buttons to choose whether you want the item shipped to you or whether you want to pick up the item at the store. Should you choose to remove the item from your cart, after hitting the "remove" link, a form will appear at the bottom of the page that asks whether you want to remove the item. The form contains two unlabeled buttons: top is yes; bottom is no. Once all items are in the cart, there is a labeled "checkout" button. Not all of the registration's form controls were labeled when Window-Eyes was not in browse mode.

Live help is available for the Kmart site at (800) 305-1001.


If you want to send a gift to someone who cooks and/or likes food, then Williams-Sonoma might be worth checking out. The homepage opens with 435 links and 2 forms. The first form on the page is a search form consisting of a labeled edit box and search link. Below that is an e-mail sign up form.

Almost all of the many links are clearly labeled. There are specific links for gifts. Most of the gift links start with the letter "G" if you are using your screen reader's link hot key. There are many other categories including cookware, food and cook's tools. Each of these categories has subcategories.

Since it's holiday time, I decided to check out the gift listings. Williams-Sonoma has links for gifts based on the amount you want to spend. I activated the "Great Gifts Under $50" link. I quickly found my results by using my forms hot key until I reached the sorting combo box. I chose to sort my results by lowest to highest price.

Each result was clearly labeled and consisted of the item's link, a rating, and the number of reviews, which appears in parentheses under the rating. The final item in the listing is the item's price.

I activated the link for a box of chocolate croissants. The easiest way to find the additional item information is to use your screen reader's headings hot key. It took two keystrokes to get to the information. The additional information gave a description of the croissants, along with information on how they are shipped and how to prepare them. Next is a combo box for where you want to ship the item and then an "add to basket" button. Below the button is a list of other similar items for purchase and then a combo box to sort reviews, should you want to read them.

When the "add to basket" button was activated, Window-Eyes said "browse off," so I then had to load browse mode manually. When the new page loads, find the words "just added." Below those words will be a description of what was added to the basket and the number of total items in the basket. To review all items and make changes, activate the "View Basket" link. The results are in a table. An item can be removed by activating the delete button. In the same form is a link to change the shipping address. If you order multiples of the same item and want to add or delete, simply change the number in the quantity edit box and activate the "recalculate" button. There is a link to keep shopping and a button to check out. There's also an "express check out" button once an account is created.

When the new page loads after the check out button is activated, there is a link to create an account and the registration form appears at the bottom of the page. All form controls are clearly labeled.

Live help for the Williams Sonoma website is available at (877) 812-6235.

This site has many items for dogs as well as other pets. The homepage loads 286 links. Close to the top of the page is the customer service number. There are three forms on the page, the first is to like the site on Facebook, the second is the search form, and the third is for e-mail sign up. The search form consists of an edit box and search button. The form controls were clearly labeled when Window-Eyes was in browse mode, but when out of browse mode the form was not clearly labeled. It was not possible to move around the page by headings.

The links are structured by category, such as "dog toys" and "health." Under each main link were links for subcategories. For example, the "toys" link listed ball toys, tough dog toys, and dog chew toys. Activating a subcategory link brought up a list of toys for the category. There was also a link for seasonal gifts. Once a link is activated, the results can be found by using the forms hot key and there will be a combo box to sort results. By default the sort is for best selling items, but there are other options including sorting by price and by the savings amount.

I activated the "tough dog toys" link and left the default sort order in the combo box. Each listing had the name of the item, its price, the savings amount and a rating. By using the forms hot key, I first encountered a combo box to choose the size of the toy I wanted. Since I have a black Labrador retriever, I selected size "large" from the combo box. The next form keystroke brought me to the edit box for how many of the toy I wanted. By default it is set to one item.

A few lines down it stated the following: "This product may only be purchased with the approval of a veterinarian and may require verification. We will collect any necessary information at checkout and verify a prescription if required."

Under this information are some broken links, shipping information, and a list of products purchased by customers who bought the same item. To find the item's description, search for the words "product summary." As I went through the item's description, I discovered that my dog should have an extra large Kong, so I found the size combo box and changed my entry.

There was no way for me to add my item to the shopping cart. The button to do so is an unlabeled graphic that didn't even speak when I had sighted assistance and the mouse pointer was over it. I did call the customer service number and the representative was very helpful. She seemed genuinely interested in the issue and promised to have someone call me. She also offered to help me with my order. The registration form controls are labeled and easy to use.

Since sighted assistance is required to add items to the shopping cart, if you want to use the site, just make a list of the items you want and then call customer service at (800) 367-3647.

The homepage opens with 125 links plus a search form, with labeled form controls consisting of an edit box and search button. There is an additional form for e-mail notifications. An extra bonus is that this site links with without leaving

The links are clearly labeled, including links to shop by brand and shop by category. There is also a "Gift Center" link. Heading and list navigation hot keys do not work on this site.

I activated the "Gifts Center" link and when the new page loaded, there wasn't a quick way to find my results. I searched for the words "narrow by" And below those words were links for sorting, including by brand, by price, by best sellers, by type of gift, or by recipient.

I activated the electronics link and when my next page loaded, I could easily find the sorting combo box using the forms hot key. By default the box is set to best sellers, but there were many options including by price and sale items. I chose a pair of headphones. Each result had the item's name, the item number, the rating, the number of reviews, and then the price. Below that was a link to save the item to my list. Once you register with, they keep a list of items you have ordered and/or saved to your list. You can easily add, sort, and remove items from your list. This is a very convenient feature, especially if you use the site frequently and order the same items.

Activating the item's link loaded a new page which included an edit box with the quantity and a button to add the item to my shopping bag. Slightly below that was a description of the item. I added the item to my shopping bag. When the next page loaded, I found the shopping bag by using the Window-Eyes table hot key. My shopping bag items were actually in the fourth table down. After the item description was a link to view the shopping bag. The other tables had recommendations and a selection of various products. Another way to find the results is to let the page load and then activate the shopping bag link. The contents will be the first table on the new page. The second table has a more complete description of each item, including an edit box to change quantity and a link to remove an item. If any adjustments have been made, there is a link to update quantity. Since offers free shipping for most purchases over $25, there is also information about how much additional money you need to spend to get free shipping. There are then four options: keep shopping, check out, PayPal check out, and Google checkout. When the "checkout" link is activated, the registration form can be located with the forms control hot key or find it in the second table on the page. The form is straightforward and all form controls speak.

Live help for is available at (800) 378-4786.


There are many legitimate online shopping websites from which to choose for your holiday shopping. While many sites may have accessibility issues, if you are patient you can usually find what you need. Live help is there for a reason; don't be afraid to use it.

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