How does a blind person shop online for furniture?

By Michael Taylor on Apr 28, 2023
Topics: Retail


As e-commerce becomes an increasingly integral part of the modern technological landscape, even industries that traditionally relied on brick-and-mortar sales are going digital. One such retail sector is the home furniture.

Whether it's a new bedroom set or a cozy recliner for the den, many people shop online for home décor and furniture. What about blind people? Do we need an e-commerce website selling furniture to be accessible? Absolutely. Keep reading to learn about my experience shopping for furniture on four different e-commerce websites and five ways e-commerce businesses can improve the shopping experience for their customers with disabilities.  

Furniture shopping online while blind - how do I know if it will fit?

One of the most important things to know about furniture is the dimensions. Traditionally, the measurements of an item are provided in plain text and included in the product description. Plain text is a perfectly accessible way to give this information. 

Unfortunately, more websites have started using a graphic of a ruler or tape measure over the image of the piece of furniture to represent the dimensions. While visually appealing, this method of presenting vital size information is not accessible to me as a screen reader user.

Please, whenever you use a graphic to convey the dimensions of a piece of furniture, include a text caption, so your customers with disabilities can learn the dimensions too. 

How product descriptions help blind customers.

Detailed alternative text image descriptions on websites are critical for people with disabilities using assistive technology to provide context. On e-commerce websites, product descriptions help me better understand quality, style, and how well a product will suit my needs. 

I was browsing the product listing page for a dresser on a popular furniture shopping website recently. The listing contained eighteen images, each showing different parts of the dresser at various angles. Unfortunately, there was not a single alternative text caption available. Worse yet, the item description was only four sentences that needed to be more helpful. 

Why is this such a problem? A sighted website visitor could see the depth and the materials used in the drawer, like the type of wood, hardware, and the material used in the slide tracks. These details speak to quality, usefulness, and product durability. The written description only said six drawers had no information about construction, material, or depth. 

Please include a plain text description of all the information shared in the pictures to help your customers of all abilities. 

Product colors matter to everyone (even blind customers). 

Furniture typically comes in different colors. On several sites, I found color choices displayed using swatches showing available options in a visually appealing array. My screen reader could not read the color swatches on the four sites I visited; it would say nothing or announce vague, meaningless terms like "button" or "image."

In theory, a sighted user will choose a color option on the swatch, which will, in turn, adjust the color of the product in the main image. Blind people and others using assistive technology need your swatches to have a text label for each color. Just because someone is visually impaired does not mean that color is irrelevant. 

Five Ways to improve digital accessibility on your furniture website 

1. Always include alternative text image descriptions. Descriptions are essential on furniture shopping sites because images give crucial information about the materials and their quality. Be as detailed as possible with the text descriptions.
2. Everyone cares about color, even people with visual disabilities. Additionally, please use traditional easy-to-understand names like red instead of poppy or yellow instead of marigold. 
3. If graphics display an item's dimensions, ensure the figures are included in plain text because size is important when shopping for furniture online.
4. A good rule of thumb is that any detail in the photos, no matter how small, should also be available to assistive technology users as plain text or another accessible format.
5. If any of this seems confusing or you want a helping hand with digital accessibility, consider engaging an external partner.

Before ending, I want to speak about a personal hope for the future briefly. Many furniture websites have virtual reality features that make it possible to view a piece of furniture in space using the cameras on our smartphones. Sighted users can utilize this feature to determine if a furniture item will fit in its allocated space or how it might complement a room's style. 

I understand barriers exist to making this feature accessible to everyone. However, I hope that as accessible technology advances, developers can figure out a way to give blind users the functionality to point their phone toward a spot in the room and receive verbal feedback that confirms or denies whether or not the piece of furniture will fit based on dimensional data collected by the camera. A feature like this will make it possible to get at least something out of the virtual reality components of modern websites.

To learn how to plan your digital accessibility initiative- download the digital accessibility checklist for free here. 

accessibility is a journey not a destination with illustration of people using website pages

Editor's Note: This is a post by our marketing intern, Michael Taylor. This post 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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