Rite Aid Cuts Deal For Visually Impaired Web, POS Support

Rite Aid on May 1 announced an extensive set of E-Commerce and POS changes to accommodate visually-impaired consumers, admittedly under an implied litigation threat from advocacy groups.

The $24 billion 5,000-store pharmacy chain joins an expanding list of national retailers who have agreed to make such changes, including 7-Eleven, RadioShack, Safeway, Trader Joe's and Wal-Mart. The most prominent retailer who has fought such efforts is Target, whose legal battle continues.

The changes typically sought—and Rite Aid is a good example—involve making all informational images readable by devices those with visual challenges use. Many sites will use, for example, an image of a shirt to serve as the entry point for the shirts area.

Under the terms of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), such images must be tagged with meaningfully descriptive text that visually challenged consumers can use.

There is active debate within the E-Commerce community whether such change requests are overly onerous and expensive or very important to a substantial population. Either way, such changes can often help consumers who are not visually challenged, but whose browsers might not be properly displaying images. These tags have the side benefit of helping those consumers, as well.

The agreement was flexible on Rite Aid's use of CAPTCHAs (those squiggly lines that consumers recognize and type in to prove that they're not computers), which pose a significant challenge for consumers with vision difficulties who in some circumstances can't use a speaker to hear the word being spelled.

On the in-store side, Rite Aid agreed to purchase and install thousands of new POS units that allow PINs to be entered in such a way that the consumer can't be watched typing in the digits. The typical new POS units use touchscreens, which allow for much more flexibility in capability design, but the units create a hardship on those with vision difficulties.

"Without tactile keys, blind people are forced to share their PINs with strangers," said Melanie Brunson, executive director of the American Council of the Blind.

The keys on the specially created POS units are designed so that visually impaired consumers can easily recognize them. Every store is to have at least one such unit.

The units will be installed by the end of next year, according to the agreement between Rite Aid, the American Council of the Blind, the American Foundation for the Blind and the California Council of the Blind.

The deal said that Rite Aid has already purchased "more than 3,000" such POS units from VeriFone.