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Black Friday & Cyber Monday Accessibility: A Blind Person's Experience

By Michael Taylor on Nov 16, 2023
Topics: Web Accessibility, Retail, User Experience, Ecommerce


With Black Friday and Cyber Monday right around the corner, many of us are preparing to take advantage of those fantastic deals and discounts. The National Retail Federation predicts that holiday spending in 2023 will reach record levels. One of the most significant shifts in consumer behavior from the COVID-19 pandemic is an increase in online sales.

In this blog, I would like to discuss some of the most common challenges that people with assistive technology face when shopping for Black Friday deals. These issues also apply to any site offering a sale or discount. As always, my discussion will focus on screen reader accessibility. 

What's The Price?

Many Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals involve a direct reduction of an item's price. The issue lies in how site designers display the lowered price. A common practice is to use large, heavily stylized numerals in a colorful text box to show the reduced price beside the original price. The standard price generally appears in its typical basic font. The idea is that the fancy numbers and bright colors will draw sighted users to the discounted item. The problem with this design philosophy is that these stylized numbers are often not screen-reader accessible. If the screen reader finds the numbers, it often will announce a vague, meaningless term like "Image" or "Graphic." This problem happens because it recognizes the fancy font as an unlabeled image. In other cases, the screen reader will not detect the reduced price.

At this point, blind users like myself may know that an item is on sale but will have no idea what the discounted price is. Accessibility defects like these make it challenging to take full advantage of discount shopping.

Promotion Code Problems

A typical discount strategy requires shoppers to enter a promotion code during checkout to save on an entire order. I have unfortunately had numerous struggles with this seemingly simple process. Some companies will distribute discount codes in marketing communications.

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Unfortunately, when a discount code is in an embedded graphic, my screen reader can't find and announce it. The strange thing with this is that sighted users tell me that the discount code does not appear in a text box or as part of an image.

The other major shortcoming of these coupon codes is locating the input text field during checkout. This text field is often not labeled in the code so that a screen reader can miss it. The other strange thing is that the input field for the promotion codes will sometimes be discoverable when moving around by text field only but will not be found by my screen reader if using manual navigation. Since promotion codes are an integral part of Black Friday shopping, it is incredibly frustrating that they present many accessibility challenges for screen reader users.

Accessibility Problem With Alternative Page Designs

Upon page launch, many sites encourage users to click a button or link that will bring them to a separate part of the site that lists only items that are part of a sale. While helpful in theory, I have found that this feature has presented many accessibility challenges for me. The biggest issue is that, for some reason, the deals-only page does not seem to follow the standard accessibility conventions of the rest of the site. One potential reason for this is that this part of the site is temporary and does not undergo traditional accessibility testing.

Another theory of mine concerns the visual design of these alternative browsing pages. To increase appeal and attractiveness, site designers often adjust some visual aspects of the deals' promotion pages.

An example may be using a dark theme instead of the site's usual light theme. These changes may inadvertently break some of the page's accessibility features. I have unfortunately had a very poor experience navigating around these parts of a site. I find that buttons sometimes need to be labeled, and images have no descriptions. Navigation is often lagging and clunky, causing the screen reader to lose focus frequently.

I have also experienced other random defects, such as the screen reader's cursor getting stuck at the top of the page for no apparent reason. These problems make it difficult to enjoy the feature of a site that allows customers to shop for discounts.

→ Read how to build a complete Accessibility Testing Program in our free guide. 

Online Accessibility Helps All Shoppers

People with disabilities make up a large percentage of the population with money to spend. The American Institutes for Research (AIR) calculated in 2018 that the 20 million US working adults (ages 16 to 24) with disabilities had a collective after-tax disposable income of $490 billion

Like all shoppers in 2023, members of the disability community may be more likely to shop online. Unfortunately, I've found significant barriers to accessibility when shopping for Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals or online sales and discounts. Yet, I am confident that the accessibility shortcomings I discussed above will improve as more companies understand that an accessible digital experience is imperative for customers with disabilities and enhances the experience that all customers have with a company's brand. 

If you are working on digital accessibility, UsableNet offers several approaches to help based on your experience, resources, timeline, and specific goals. Take our remediation quiz to learn which approach might be best for your needs. New call-to-action

Michael Taylor

Michael Taylor

My name is Michael Taylor and I am a marketing intern at Usablenet. I graduated from Hofstra University with a bachelors of business administration in marketing. I am blind, and use assistive technology each and every day to access the digital world. As a result, I am very passionate about web accessibility and usability. My experiences with the good and bad of accessible technology give me a unique perspective that allows me to make meaningful contributions in the digital accessibility field. During my marketing internship at Usablenet, I hope to raise awareness about digital accessibility by providing accounts of my personal experiences and suggestions and recommendations about what works well and what does not. Though I am only beginning on my professional journey, I aim to pursue a long-term career in the digital accessibility field.

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