In the first part of this hospitality industry series, we looked at booking rooms on the Marriott and Hyatt websites. In this installment, we'll review iOS apps for Marriott, InterContinental Hotels Group, and Hilton Worldwide. Accessible hotel apps allow someone with a visual impairment independently make hotel reservations from anywhere he or she has cell phone access. For this evaluation, we used VoiceOver on an iPhone 6 running iOS 8.3.
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Apple Watch. Requires iOS 8.0 or later.
This app is for use with Marriott and its subsidiaries, such as Courtyard and Residence Inn.
This is the first Marriott app listed in the iTunes App Store. The second app is Marriott Guest Services, which is for those who are members of the Marriott Rewards program
Once the app is installed, VoiceOver will say "Marriott" whenever it is selected. The first time the app is opened, you are presented with a picker to choose pages one through four and a Skip button. No matter which page you select, VoiceOver will not read any text. There is text displayed that provides a tour of the app, but the text is not accessible with VoiceOver.
When the "Skip" button is activated, a new page loads with some form controls. The first is an edit box for your E-mail Rewards Number and the second is for your password. The next control is a "Join" button. When you select the "Join" button, VoiceOver reads the text about the benefits of joining. The final control is a "Skip" button. If this button is activated, a new page loads to start the booking process.
By default, the app assumes you want a room the same day and you want to find a location near your current one. If these defaults are correct, you simply need to navigate down to the "Find" button. The next screen will contain a list of options. This feature is particularly useful if you are stuck at an airport and need a hotel room.
If you need a room for different dates, navigate to and select "More Search Options." When the new page loads, an edit box says, "Current Location." You will have to delete those two words from the edit box prior to entering a destination. Then, flick right and VoiceOver will speak the city if any hotels are in the area. Next, activate the "Done" button in the upper right corner.
On the next page, you pick dates for your stay. This can be difficult because the days of the week are only read at the beginning of each month; they are not repeated as you move through a given month. You may also need to slide your finger around the screen to find the month you're looking for. When you find your arrival date, double tap on it and do the same on your departure date. Then activate the "Find" button on the bottom of the screen. To refine your search further, activate the "More Search Options" button. This page allows you to indicate a variety of options, including specific Marriott subsidiaries and the number of guests, along with information on special rates. Then you can go back to the "Find" button and activate it. The next screen shows your dates and a list of available hotels for those dates. Rate information is provided under each hotel name.
Double tapping on a hotel name brings up a details page with links to information such as the overview, amenities, and transportation options. The page also contains the hotel phone number and address.
To begin the selection process, activate the "Rates" button for the hotel listing. The next screen will contain information about rates and different rooms. Double tap the room you want. Select room preferences—such as type of bed, roll-in shower, room location, and early check-in—on the new page. Then, activate the "Continue" button on the bottom of the screen.
If you are not a Marriott Rewards member, you will complete a registration form on the next step. If you are a member, skip the registration and sign in with your user name and password. The registration form is straightforward: you first enter personal information such as name, address, and e-mail address, then you enter credit card information. On the first part of the credit card form, you choose a credit card type. The picker for this selection and the picker for the expiration date are located at the bottom of the page. Activate the "Continue" button to get to the final part of the reservation process.
When the next page loads, information about the reservation is clearly displayed. At the bottom of the page is a button to cancel the reservation, which will bring you back to the "Find a Hotel" page.
The Marriott app is not completely accessible with VoiceOver. The developers need to make the first four pages accessible so that users with visual impairments can receive the same app tour available to users with sight. In the dates calendar, each month should be easy to locate and VoiceOver should speak each day of the week when using the calendar.
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch Device. Requires iOS 7.0 or later
This app is used for IHG hotels including InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, Holiday Inn, and Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts.
When the app is selected VoiceOver says, "IHG Registered Sign." The home screen has text accessible via VoiceOver, and there is a "Homescreen_Find_Hotel" button. After the first time the app is opened, other buttons may appear on the first screen, but they are labeled. You might need to use a rotor character setting just to understand exactly what VoiceOver is saying.
When the "Homescreen" button is activated, the next page has a form for choosing arrival and departure dates. By default the current date is listed. Double tapping on the date loads a new screen similar to the one in the Marriott app. However, this version is easier to read, especially the names of the months. Double-tap on your arrival and departure dates. Next, activate the "Done" button in the upper right corner.
When the new page loads, your arrival and departure dates will appear at the top of the page. There will be other boxes for the number of rooms you'd like and how many guests will be in a room. The boxes are located towards the top, but quantities are selected with pickers at the bottom of the page. Unfortunately, the picker numbers did not transfer accurately to the edit boxes. For example, changing the number of guests from the default of 1 to 2 with the picker resulted in no change in the number entered into box. With sighted assistance, I discovered that, with VoiceOver off, the correct number was indeed entered in the box. The next step is to enter a destination. Possibilities are listed as you type. Double-tap on the destination you want. The next page will display a list of hotels and rates. Double-tap on a hotel listing and the next page will have information about the hotel including address, amenities, and a general overview. It may be necessary to flick around the page, both right and left, to find everything listed. At the bottom of the hotel's first page is a link to book a room.
The page for choosing a room had significant accessibility issues. The text describing each kind of room was clear but not accessible with VoiceOver. For example, the text said "Room 1," but VoiceOver couldn't read the description on the page. Activating the unlabeled button for that page did bring up a description for the room. It was necessary to activate all the buttons to determine what was available. Once a room was chosen, another page loaded with a description and what appeared to be a series of buttons with letters. For example, "IVANI" was what VoiceOver read, but there was text that VoiceOver couldn't read that described the function of the button. One button was for a special rate with a nonrefundable deposit. Another was for a points upgrade. The only way to determine what each button said was to activate each one, and even then, all information was not clear. Once I selected the appropriate button, I couldn't find where to indicate that it was my final choice. With sighted assistance I learned that there were options to sign in or continue as a guest, but VoiceOver could not read this text. I flicked around and double tapped on the word, "name." This brought me to a guest information form. All edit boxes were labeled. Credit card type and expiration date were done with pickers at the bottom of the page. The "Done" button is at the bottom right of the screen.
The rest of the information was accessible.
This app is not accessible with VoiceOver. Although some limitations may be excusable, such as the calendar (which as with the other two apps reviewed here, does not read the day of the week as you move through the dates), so much of the app is inaccessible that sighted assistance is required to use it. The developers need to do a major overhaul, including fixing the pickers for choosing number of rooms and guests, and appropriately labeling buttons so VoiceOver and provide accurate information to the user with a visual impairment. This app is definitely not an option for voiceover users.
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. Requires iOS 7.0 or later
This app covers additional hotels including DoubleTree and Embassy Suites.
When the app is selected, VoiceOver says, "Hilton.".
When the app launches, there are four options on the screen: Find a Hotel, Reservations, Account, and Call Us. These options can be read by flicking with one finger. There is a "Join" button in the upper left corner that can be read by tapping that location. In the upper right corner there is a button labeled "Menu Icon." As with the "Join" button, it is necessary to place your finger on the screen to get VoiceOver to read it. This "Menu Icon" menu gives information about privacy and cookies.
When the "Find a Hotel" option is selected, the next screen has options to Sign In or Join. Underneath these two options there is an option labeled "Hotels Near Me." This is actually an edit box. Under the words "Hotels Near Me" is a button labeled "Icon ClearText." Once the button is activated, you are prompted to enter the name of a city, airport, attraction, etc. If you do want to find a hotel near your location, flick down to the edit boxes for entering information such as dates of stay, number of rooms, and guests.
As you add letters in the edit box, results are listed. Double-tap on the one you want. When the new page loads there will be a form for entering dates of stay, number of rooms, and number of guests.
The current date is selected by default. Change the date by double tapping on the current date. A calendar, similar to the ones in the Marriott and InterContinental apps, will open. Flicking and scrolling do work to navigate the calendar, but at certain points in between months, VoiceOver may not speak when you flick your finger. Keep going and VoiceOver will again start speaking. Double tap on your arrival and departure dates and then activate the "Done" button in the upper right corner.
When the new screen loads, arrival and departure days are clearly displayed. Below the departure date is an option for selecting the number of rooms and number of guests in each room. Double-tap on the option.
The next screen says "Room 1." The number of adults and children who will be in the room is selected by pickers at the bottom of the page. These pickers do work with VoiceOver. Add another room by activating the "Add Room" option. Once your selections are made, activate the "Back" button in the upper left corner.
The next screen has your dates and room information. There is an option to use points or enter a special rate code. Next is a "Find Hotels" button and a "Cancel" button.
The next screen will have the travel dates, number of rooms, and number of guests, followed by a list of hotels. Each listing includes the lowest rate and the number of points needed to book. At the bottom of the screen are three options: Sort, Map, and Filter. By default, only Hilton hotels are listed in the search result, but this can be changed to "all hotels by price" in the sort option. This means that other Hilton brands such as DoubleTree and Embassy Suites will be included. The "Filter" button provides options including "filter by brands" and "filter by amenities." Double-tap on your hotel selection.
The next screen gives descriptions of the selected hotel and room. There is also a button to call the hotel directly. In the upper right corner is a button for adding additional requests including special rates, accessible rooms, and cancellation policies. Once you make your selections, activate the "Apply" button in the lower right corner. Then double-tap on the room you want and a new reservations page will load. There will be options to sign in or continue as a guest.
The reservation page uses edit boxes and pickers to complete the form. There are a couple of occasions where the edit box will say, "Type." Go to the bottom of the screen and use the picker to select the type of e-mail address and phone number you are using on the form. When filling out this form, instead of saying each individual letter, VoiceOver says the individual letters as a word.
After you enter credit card information, there is an option for requests, including traveling with a service dog. There is also an edit box labeled, "Anything else we need to know?" The "Done" button in the upper right corner returns to the reservation form. Once the "Book Now" button activated, a confirmation e-mail is sent immediately.
This was by far the most accessible app of the three reviewed here. One improvement would be to make it easier to find the months with VoiceOver and to have VoiceOver read the day of the week as you flick past each date.
The Bottom Line
It's unfortunate that people who are blind don't have the same access to some hotel iOS apps as sighted customers do. Making the Marriott and InterContinental apps accessible with VoiceOver would not be a major project, and, for major corporations like these, the resources required to do so are relatively inconsequential. The app from Hilton is by far the most accessible. The calendar could use some modification, which would make it easier to use. However, it is quite accessible and the Call Us feature is a nice addition.
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