Getting digital accessibility right means creating a better experience for everyone, including our guests with disabilities. That’s why, for many years, Target has committed to making our website, apps and other digital offerings more accessible to all.
It’s been a long journey, but we’re making important strides. Earlier this summer, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) gave us props at its annual convention in Orlando for our continued efforts. (Check out “Resolution 2016-13” here.)
But we know we have more work to do. That’s why we’re pleased to be the first organization to partner with the NFB’s new Strategic Nonvisual Access Partnership (SNAP) program, which infuses accessibility into corporate culture and technology through certification programs and other resources.
A Bullseye View sat down with Jason Goldberger, Target’s chief digital officer and president of Target.com, and two of Target’s Accessibility team leads—Ryan Strunk and Laurie Merryman—to hear more about what it’s taken to get this far, and where we plan to go next.
How do websites and apps work for disabled people—and why is digital accessibility a priority for Target?
Jason: There are assistive technologies—either hardware or software—that are designed to make websites and apps accessible for disabled people. There are things like screen-readers for blind people and devices that replace or emulate a keyboard or mouse for people who can’t use their hands. Of course, websites and apps must be built and updated properly to ensure these technologies can work and interpret the content. This is very dynamic work because e-commerce sites are updated constantly, so I’m extremely proud that Target has one of the most accessible sites in retail.
It’s a priority for us for several reasons: First, it’s the right thing to do. If a disabled guest came into one of our stores, of course we’d work to accommodate them the best we could. It’s the same thing online. Second, there are tens of millions of people in the U.S. with disabilities—so there’s real opportunity to be had for retailers. Third, the technologies that help disabled guests with accessibility—things like voice-recognition software and other technologies designed for people who are blind or low-vision—might ultimately prove beneficial for other guests. Inclusivity is a core attribute to Target, and that’s why to me digital accessibility isn’t a nice-to-do, it’s an imperative.
How has Target’s accessibility process evolved, and can you give us some background about the history of Target’s work in this space?
Laurie: In the past, a member of Target's accessibility team [pictured above] would review a final web page or feature just before it launched. That left little opportunity for actual change or input and, not surprisingly, we weren’t delivering for disabled guests as well as we should. To make a real difference, we changed this approach because we knew we needed accessibility to be a part of development from the earliest planning stages. We made it part of our overall process, and worked it into contracts with vendors.
Ryan: It’s been a remarkable journey, and we’re still making progress. It was 10 years ago now that Target was involved in litigation over our shortcomings in this area. We settled the NFB’s suit in 2008, and since then we have worked consistently with the NFB to build better digital experiences. That close working relationship led us to become part of the new SNAP program. And, as Laurie said, the process for how we work and how we think about accessibility from Day One has helped us become a leader in this space.
A Team Member’s Perspective: Ryan Strunk, Accessibility Lead
I recently went onto Target’s website and bought presents for my niece and nephew. I chose “Order Pickup” so I could pick the items up in store, and took them home with me to give to the kids. Everyone was happy.
Smooth guest experiences like this are a testament to the work we do here at Target every day. But for me, a guest who has—incidentally—been blind since birth, this was something more. While companies are getting better about making online experiences available to people like me, I still come across too many that aren’t built for accessibility. I’m proud Target is working to change this.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five adults in America has a disability – that’s more than 50 million people. Historically, people with disabilities haven’t been on the cutting edge of technological advances. We either miss out on trends until mass-adoption and technology catches up, or we miss out altogether, and a certain website or digital service remains completely unusable to us. I want to live in a world where those barriers don’t exist for tens of millions of people thanks to conscious, accessible design.
When Target’s popular Cartwheel deals app launched in 2013, every one of its platforms—web, iPhone and Android—was accessible to guests with disabilities. It was a thrill to be part of Target launching a new digital product that all of our guests—both those with a disability and those without—could properly access.
I remember getting a phone call from a friend of mine, who is also blind, bragging about saving 25% on a swimsuit. I grinned from ear to ear. (Not because of the savings—though who doesn’t love that?) I was smiling because Target had built a cool new app that my blind friend could experience just like everyone else. That’s us telling her and guests like her that she matters to Target, and that we truly value her business.
As a member of Target’s accessibility team, I help ensure all of our digital offerings fulfill the promise of equal access for all Target guests. We work every day with digital designers and developers to build accessibility into new Target innovations. And we test those products to make sure they comply with a specific set of guidelines.
Many guests with disabilities who access the Internet or apps do so using assistive technology – generally special software or hardware that enables them to interact with the experience. For a blind person, this can take the form of special programs that either read the contents of a screen or magnify the words and pictures so they can be more easily seen. Someone with a mobility impairment can use switches or dictation software to help them tap a button or click a mouse. People who are hard of hearing can use closed captioning to access dialog in videos on websites. My team uses these assistive technologies in our planning and testing every day, so we are able to mirror the experiences guests encounter. This allows us to build our digital products so that everyone can use them.
One of the most important things I want in life is to be able to have the same experiences as everyone else. I want to look forward to trying a new recipe and knowing that buying groceries will be quick and easy. I want to focus on the excitement of giving gifts rather than worrying about whether a website will make it difficult for me to do so. In short, I want an ordinary life.
To me, that’s what it means when we talk about the importance that Target places on being inclusive. Every day, through my work on accessibility, I have the opportunity to make being included a reality for myself and tens of millions of others with disabilities. And I could not be more proud of that.
Jason: Today, our digital and accessibility teams work as one. That means we’re considering accessibility at every stage of development to create digital experiences that are inclusive to all guests. And the approach is paying off. We’re proud to offer one of the most accessible sites in retail, thanks to updated site structure, text equivalents, full keyboard access and site consistency. We have an official Target policy, and a talented team of 12 people working on our website, apps and registry experiences.
Ten years and a lot of hard work later, what makes you most proud?
Ryan: Today, I regularly hear colleagues from many different teams talking about accessibility unprompted, and working it into their plans without any reminders from us. It’s become part of everyday conversation, and that’s pretty amazing because it wasn’t always the case. Thinking about those with disabilities is an integral part of the digital team, and to me and other blind guests, it’s another part of what makes Target special.
Laurie: It’s great to see other teammates taking the initiative to test our site for accessibility and making it their own mission to find and fix any defects. We have what we call ‘Accessibility Champions’—Target colleagues who’ve embraced accessibility, gone the extra mile to learn about it and are spreading the knowledge to others. They’re helping our whole company have the right conversations and make it a part of our culture.
Jason: Last fall, as we prepared to launch our international site with BorderFree, we uncovered a number of opportunities to make the experience more accessible. We worked hard with the BorderFree team to ensure our international site would meet our accessibility standards. And, subsequently, we were thrilled to see BorderFree go on to adopt these enhancements for other retailers’ websites. Seeing our partners and team members pass their accessibility expertise along and spread it throughout the industry is really rewarding.
Of course, we’re far from perfect. Guests are going to find things about our site that aren’t exactly right for every audience. But we’re committed to taking our experiences from ‘mostly accessible’ to all the way. It’s important to get this right, and we hope that more companies will join Target in making digital accessibility a priority.
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