[NFBWATlk] thought this was a good read about amazon accessibility

Merribeth Greenberg merribeth.manning at gmail.com
Thu Aug 1 17:07:00 UTC 2019

Prime Accessibility Flop On Amazon Prime Day
Peter Slatin <https://www.forbes.com/sites/peterslatin/>Contributor
Diversity & Inclusion <https://www.forbes.com/diversity-inclusion>
I write about undoing norms that inhibit success for disabled people.

Imagine a shopping trip to a store. A really, really big store, and they
are having a really, really big sale. You arrive with several items in
mind. Because you know they will be almost impossible to find in this huge
place, you need the assistance of someone with a thorough knowledge of
which inventory items are where on the endless store shelves.  You find
just the right helper. They are pleasant and knowledgeable.  Still, it is a
big store, it’s a slog to locate even one of your wish-list items, but when
you find it, the best part is that it’s marked down by 50% - not too
shabby! Your gracious helper reaches for it, but surprisingly is simply
unable to lift it from the shelf and place it in your shopping cart. What’s
the matter, you ask? "Oh," says the assistant, "I am apparently not allowed
to take this off the shelf. It is against our policy to allow customer
service representatives to do this for their customers."

"But," the rep continued, "there is a solution: If you go back out into the
parking lot, I will give you the GPS coordinates of this item on this shelf
in this aisle, and you can come back and get it for yourself."

"Oh," you say. "I don’t know how to use this kind of GPS. Perhaps your boss
can help?"

You both go in search of a boss. You finally find one, who asked you to
find the aisle, shelf and item again. Naturally, this is still a bit beyond
your capabilities, though you tried hard. Finally, you turned to the boss.
"Can you find it?" you asked. The boss can and does after some searching.
And – abracadabra – reaches up and calmly plucks the item off the shelf and
places it in your cart.

How strange, you think, that an employee dedicated to customer service
cannot perform this simple act of customer service and requires a superior
to perform it instead. Nonetheless, aggravated though you are and feeling
pressed for time, you head for the cash register to check out. You can’t
wait to see this special price get rung up and take your bargain home.

However, when the cashier scans your item’s bar code, the original price
pops up. There’s no discount. What? Whaa-aat? But the boss person who
helped you has disappeared. You frantically race around and find another
boss person. You take their hand and lead them to your register and show
them what has happened.

"Ah," says the boss person. "How did you get this item?"

You explain about the helper and then the other boss.

"Oh," says the new boss. "We have another policy. If you didn’t take this
specially priced item off the shelf by yourself, you do not deserve that
special price.  That’s not for you. You must pay the full price. Thank you
for your purchase and for shopping with us. We are so happy to have your
business. We are so proud of all of the help we have provided so you can
shop with us. Didn’t you love the help we gave you?  It is too bad that we
can’t give you the price everybody else can pay. Come back any time!"

This was the picture I painted toward the end of a two-hour series of phone
calls with Amazon for Kimberly M, an customer service manager, to whom I
described my attempts to purchase various items with the help of the help
desk on Amazon Prime Day. One sales rep on the accessibility customer
service help desk had explained to me that she was unable to place certain
items, like clothing that needed to be selected by color and size, into my
shopping cart. I would have to do that. Another customer service rep later
explained that if I wanted to purchase a specially priced Prime Day item, I
would have to buy it the instant I selected it rather than go through the
customer service desk. Doing so would simply erase any discount offered all
other buyers.

Perhaps you are asking yourself why I needed to call an accessibility
hotline rather than just go on Amazon.com <http://amazon.com/>, locate the
items I want and buy them. It’s a good question. The answer is that, while
it is possible for a blind person using a screen reader to shop on
Amazon.com, it is extremely difficult. The web site can be navigated, but
there is an enormous amount of trial and error, and it’s filled with
pitfalls and tangents that take you away from where you want and need to do
your shopping. If you get off on one of these tangents, either on purpose
or through a misunderstood link, it’s not easy to find your way back. Thus,
after being sued by and faced with numerous demonstrations by the National
Federation of the Blind <http://www.nfb.org/>and others, Amazon created its
accessibility customer service line. A great idea, although even better
would be a web site that is easy for all to use with efficiency and ease.

I often feel incompetent when struggling with a web site’s interface. Some
blind people must be able to do this, I think. And some can, but most
can’t. One very cool customer service rep told me on the phone how she
often listened helplessly as callers tried to navigate the Amazon site
using their screen readers, even as they sought her help. And she also told
me how often she and her colleagues have gone to higher-ups to explain that
these policies defeat the very purpose of their work and discriminate
against their visually impaired and blind customers. I was heartened that
she understood and saddened that nothing had been done to improve things.

Kimberly told me that she is among those at the top of the front-line
customer-service hierarchy and that everyone above her is “administrative.”
It was simply not possible for a customer to reach beyond her level to
register a problem. It must have been frustrating for me, she acknowledged.
Not to worry, she said. She would tell the managers of the different
lower-level customer service reps I had worked with and make sure the
managers provided better training so this would not happen again.

But it’s not their training, I said. They don’t need training. They need to
be enabled to serve their customers. They are customer service reps, not
customer denier reps.

OK, said Kimberly. She would contact the software engineers and they would
fix the problem.

But it’s not the engineers, I said. Someone created this policy and the
engineers simply implemented it. I suggested that she consider taking some
responsibility for this problem and bring it to the appropriate management
team so they could actually decide whether to change the policy. She said
she would. I asked her how I would learn whether the policy had been
changed. She said that an email would be sent out to all Amazon customers.
If I received no email, then there had been no change.

The experience reminded me of trying to set up my new Amazon Echo.  I
followed the directions Amazon provided online as best as possible, but
eventually, I gave in and called the accessibility customer service line.
The man I spoke with patiently walked me through the multi-layered process.
He continually expressed amazement as I managed each step and followed his
instructions. Finally, Alexa spoke. Success! But the man on the other end
of the phone line wasn’t buying it. “I don’t believe you’re blind,” he
declared flatly. “You couldn’t have set that up if you’re blind.”

He wasn’t kidding.

Amazon announced recently the rollout of a $700 million company-wide
training program focusing on closing the gap between artificial
intelligence and human intelligence. The human intelligence that will
ultimately inform and shape the artificial intelligence might need a
refresher first.

Beth Greenberg

On Thu, Aug 1, 2019 at 9:00 AM Mike Mello via NFBWATlk <nfbwatlk at nfbnet.org>

>  thought this was a good read about amazon accessibility
> *
> https://www.forbes.com/sites/peterslatin/2019/07/17/prime-accessibility-flop-on-amazon-prime-day/#4967cb3e109e*
> <
> https://www.forbes.com/sites/peterslatin/2019/07/17/prime-accessibility-flop-on-amazon-prime-day/
> >
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