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Common Accessibility Challenges On Coffee Shop Websites

By Michael Taylor on Apr 5, 2024
Topics: Web Accessibility, User Experience, Restaurants


The coffee shop craze is taking the food industry by storm, boasting over 35,000 establishments across the US. Whether it's a morning pick-me-up or a refreshing iced tea, these hubs cater to all ages, with coffee lovers indulging in an average of 3 cups daily. While big national chains hold their ground, the rise of small independent coffee shops, comprising 24% of the market, adds a vibrant touch to the scene.

Online coffee ordering has surged 250% in recent years, offering customers the convenience of customized brews at their fingertips. Despite this convenience, accessibility issues plague many coffee shop websites, presenting challenges for visually impaired individuals like myself. In this blog, I'll delve into three common accessibility issues, focusing exclusively on screen reader usability.

Order Customization

One of the most powerful features available on almost every coffee shop website is the ability to control and customize ingredients for a given item granularly. Customers can add or remove items, modify flavor combinations, and even choose the amount of sweetener in their drink. The possibilities seem endless when ordering online from one of these coffee shops. This being said, trying to modify an order like the ones described above while using a screen reader is often very difficult and sometimes even impossible.

The biggest issue I encounter is related to selecting and deselecting items. For whatever reason, my screen reader cannot differentiate between a chosen and unselected web element. For example, let's say that I am removing the strawberry chunks from a strawberry lemonade.

On the item customization screen, there are options such as "No Strawberry Pieces," "Extra Strawberry Pieces," "Light Ice," etc.

Often, when I choose the "No Strawberry Pieces" option, the screen reader will not verbally reflect my selection. As a result, I cannot know which choices I have selected when I move through the customization options again.

If functioning correctly, the screen reader should announce the word "Selected" before each item when chosen. Unfortunately, this does not happen on many coffee shop websites, leading to a thoroughly inaccessible experience. Because of this issue, I cannot review or modify my order before placing it.

Furthermore, I cannot confirm my customizations if my order is mixed up. Suppose I don't receive the item I expected. In that case, I cannot determine if it was because of an accessibility problem during the ordering process or an error made by the business in fulfillment.

Finding A Location

For coffee shops with multiple locations, the website often offers users the option to select their preferred location for order pick-up. The location selection interface on most coffee shop websites is usually inaccessible. Suppose I allow the site to search for nearby stores using my system's precise location. In that case, the result is usually an inaccessible map graphic that shows my current location as a map pin with the nearest store locations.

This sort of dynamic graphic never seems to be screen reader accessible. Some sites include an option to view the location finder as a list rather than as a map. While this seems far more accessible in theory, I have not had much luck with this method.

While my screen reader will announce the town and name of each store, it will not speak about each store's proximity to my current location; data I have confirmed is visually present on the screen. Such a shortcoming makes the location finder virtually useless for screen reader dependents like myself.

Order Tracking

After placing an online order, most coffee shop websites will provide the user with status updates as the order is received, processed, prepared, and completed. Unfortunately, I have never been able to utilize this feature successfully. Most of the time, my screen reader will say absolutely nothing on the order status page. The status updates are often moving or decorative graphics that utilize heavily stylized fonts. Screen readers cannot recognize these characters and will generally say absolutely nothing as a result.

On several occasions, I have had the exact opposite experience. The screen reader will repeatedly speak the same phrase without pausing.

One example is when I hear "Preparing Order," Preparing order," and "Preparing Order."

The usual pause speech commands do nothing to silence speech. The only options I have are to close the site or mute the system volume, neither of which is viable if I want to track the progress of my order.

Wrapping it Up: 4 Common Myths about Web Accessibility on Coffee Shop Websites

Myth 1: Coffee shop websites are universally accessible.

Truth: I shared common accessibility challenges that I face as a blind person when using coffee shop websites, demonstrating that they are not universally accessible.

Myth 2: Screen readers provide seamless access to online ordering features.

Truth: My screen reader often struggles to interpret complex online ordering interfaces, making it difficult for me to customize orders or track them effectively.

Myth 3: Location finders on coffee shop websites are accessible to all users.

Truth: Contrary to the assumption that location finders provide easy access to nearby coffee shops, these features often rely on inaccessible map graphics, posing challenges for visually impaired users.

Myth 4: Order tracking features on coffee shop websites are informative for all users.

Truth: While order tracking features may seem informative, I often encounter difficulty accessing status updates due to non-accessible graphics and repetitive screen reader output.

By dispelling these myths and revealing the realities of accessibility challenges visually impaired individuals face on coffee shop websites, I hope to have highlighted the importance of prioritizing accessibility in web design and development for other types of business websites.

TL;DR: Overcoming Accessibility Barriers in Coffee Shop Websites

As coffee shops become a staple in our daily routines, their websites offer various features for ordering convenience. However, for people with visual disability and others who rely on screen readers, using these sites presents significant challenges. Customizing orders, finding locations, and tracking orders online are particularly difficult due to inaccessible interfaces.

Order customization features often lack proper screen reader support, making it hard to modify orders accurately. Location selection interfaces frequently rely on inaccessible map graphics, rendering them unusable for visually impaired users. Additionally, order tracking updates are often conveyed through non-accessible graphics or repetitive phrases, impeding effective communication.

Empowering Inclusive Coffee Shop Experiences

Coffee shops enrich our daily lives, but accessibility barriers can hinder visually impaired users' online experience. Prioritizing accessibility can create a seamless experience for all. Coffee shop owners and developers must invest in accessible design, foster inclusivity, and expand their customer base.

For website designers, developers, managers, and business owners alike, understanding the accessibility challenges visually impaired users face on coffee shop websites offers invaluable insights into creating more inclusive online experiences. By prioritizing accessibility features such as clear labeling, keyboard navigation, and compatibility with screen readers, you can enhance usability for all users, regardless of their abilities. Consider incorporating user testing with visually impaired individuals into your design process to gain firsthand insights and ensure that your website is genuinely accessible to all.

By embracing accessibility as a core principle, you improve user satisfaction and demonstrate a commitment to inclusivity and social responsibility. Let's apply these lessons from the coffee shop experience to other consumer-facing websites, fostering a digital landscape where everyone can easily navigate, interact, and engage.

This is a guest post from our marketing contributor, Michael Taylor. It reflects his opinions and experiences. Read more about Michael and some other posts on his experience online here.

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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