Can Publix and other food retailers keep their lead on ADA compliance issues?
The Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, an advocacy group that performs what it calls “website auditing,” found good cause for optimism when it comes to grocery websites meeting the needs of consumers with eyesight problems.
“In a world of social distancing coupled with the constant negativity surrounding the handling of the pandemic, there is a bright spot in the supermarket industry,” the group announced this week in announcing the results of its latest website audit project.
The group reviewed food retail websites to learn how well they complied with standards set by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Publix took the top spot, with a score of 3.55 on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 4 (highest). Giant Eagle scored 3.50, followed by SafeWay at 3.22, Kroger at 3.20, Whole Foods at 3.10, Meijer at 3.09, Winn-Dixie at 3.00 and Walmart at 3.00.
(The organization came to its finding via website review involving “assistive technology software such as screen readers. The process consisted of analyzing each website using the latest assistive technology screen reading software such as JAWS for Windows and the World-Wide Consortium (W3C) Website Accessibility Content Guidelines (WCAG v2.0/2.1) subset of 10 criteria.”)
“I applaud the grocery industry,” Virginia Jacko, CEO of Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, told Progressive Grocer.
Jacko is blind and the review was conducted by her and the group’s IT experts, also blind. In many ways, she said, those food retailers included in this recent study showed that when it comes to making online retail more accessible for visually impaired consumers, grocers are ahead of other types of merchants.
Part of that, she said, probably stems from the fact that food retailers serve a wide consumer base of senior citizens. Even in pre-pandemic times those shoppers sometimes found it harder to get out of the house and shop, and who during the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak are turning more to online grocery shopping and delivery or pickup services.
Among the main keys for online food retail accessibility — and a feature offered by category leaders for this study — is providing a website “accessibility statement,” one with a phone number and email that can quickly connect a visually impaired shopper to live help, according to Jacko. “Once you have that accessibility statement the probability of being sued is very, very low,” she told Progressive Grocer.
Food and other types of retailers can get further ahead with accessibility via other methods as well, she said — methods that could win over more shoppers as the Baby Boomers age and encounter more vision problems, methods that also could serve to win more loyalty from blind consumers.
For instance, retailers can install relatively inexpensive website widgets that enable consumers to easily change the size of fonts or colors. More specifically, food retailers could install software tools that enable consumers to shop more efficiently via images of food rather than relatively small product descriptions. Indeed, the trend toward such visual commerce, as it’s often called, is gaining energy the broader world of online and mobile commerce, and for reasons that are not usually tied to ADA and accessibility issues.
ADA Supreme Court Case
As more consumers use online and mobile channels to shop and buy — a trend fueled by the pandemic but also independent of it — ADA and other accessibility issues promise to take on more importance for all retailers.
A big reason for that stems from a 2019 U.S. Supreme Court decision. Last October, the Supreme Court “cleared the way … for blind people to sue Domino’s Pizza and other retailers if their websites are not accessible,” according to how the L.A. Times put it. “In a potentially far-reaching move, the justices turned down an appeal from Domino’s and let stand a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling holding that the Americans With Disabilities Act protects access not just to restaurants and stores but also to the websites and apps of those businesses.”
Food retailers can keep their lead if they keep their focus on accessibility and deploy the right technologies, said Jacko.
Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix, with 1,239 locations in the Southeast, is No. 12 on Progressive Grocer’s 2020 PG 100 list of the top grocers in the United States.