CVS Will Upgrade POS, Web For Blind And Disabled

CVS Caremark is joining the (somewhat thin) list of retailers that have made their Web sites and POS devices easier to use, and more secure, for customers with visual impairments and other disabilities. In doing so, the $87 billion chain is more than a year behind rival Rite-Aid, which did its part in early 2008.

CVS , the nation's largest pharmacy chain with more than 6,900 stores, is installing tactile POS devices in all of its United States stores and upgrading its Web site to bring it in compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) promulgated by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium. The changes are spelled out in a legal agreement negotiated by accessibility lawyers on behalf of the American Council of the Blind (ACB), the American Foundation for the Blind and the California Council of the Blind (CCB).

Adhering to the accessibility guidelines can be time-consuming and expensive for retailers and there is debate in the industry about whether those costs can be justified given the limited number of people benefitted. For most retailers, including CVS, action happens after consumers complain to advocacy organizations.

Accessibility lawyer Lainey Feingold and American Council of the Blind President Mitch Pomerantz said the "structured negotiation" approach was employed to guide CVS into enhancing its accessibility without resorting to the type of expensive, drawn-out litigation seen in the case against Target. CVS joins Rite Aid, Staples and RadioShack as a retailer that agreed, due to structured negotiation, to enhance a Web site. It joins Wal-Mart, Rite Aid, Staples, RadioShack, Safeway, 7-Eleven, Trader Joe's and Dollar General in agreeing to alter its POS devices.

Although Rite Aid took the plunge long before CVS, Feingold said the fact that CVS is among only a handful of major retailers tackling the problem makes it among "the leadership."

The agreement notes that CVS Stores built before Jan. 1, 2006, and not remodeled since then, are using Hand Held Products' TT810 POS device and that stores built or remodeled after then are equipped with Hypercom L4100 POS Devices. According to the document, CVS plans to install Verifone MX860 POS devices in stores built or remodeled after Sept. 1, 2008.

The agreement, which will remain in effect until Dec. 31, 2010, noted that both the Hand Held Products and Hypercom units provide "removable overlays" with tactile keypads that can be used by visually-impaired customers when inputting PINs. The company agreed to program the units to allow customers to use the overlays "to input, correct, cancel and enter" their PINs. This avoids the security risk posed by having the customer tell the PIN to a cashier. A tactile keypad is built into the Verifone device, so CVS does not need to deploy separate overlays.

It specifies where in its stores CVS will install the tactile keyboard overlays. For example, it says stores that do not have photo counters will be retrofitted to have three POS overlays. "One POS Overlay shall be permanently affixed to a POS device located at the front counter; one overlay shall be permanently affixed to a POS device located at the pharmacy counter. The third POS overlay shall be maintained at the at the front counter, or at such other location as store management may from time to time designate, for retrieval by cashiers on an as-needed basis to assist customers with visual impairments."

CVS agreed to provide, by May 31, a written proposal describing its progress in bringing its Web site into WCAG guideline compliance. Feingold said "some unanticipated last minute delays in getting the document signed," prevented the company from meeting that deadline. However, she said CVS must file the proposal before Aug. 15 and agreed to have the site complaint by the end of the year.