Part 4: Shopping: The Final Frontier!
This is intended as the final installment in the AOL accessibility saga. Some
might argue I’m saving the best for last. Why? Because I used AOL to go shopping.
Let me start by saying that, overall, I have been pleasantly surprised, and
not just from the standpoint of accessibility. This turned out to be a very
fun, very cool experience.
You can get to the shopping area of AOL from anywhere just by pressing Ctrl-8.
This brings up the “AOL Shopping” dialog. From there, there are a number of
choices, including: Apparel & Accessories, Beauty & Health, Books, Music
& Movies, and several others.
For the sake of this article, I chose to do what I do best: spoil my darling
wife. I decided to go to the “Jewelry and Watches” department.
The interface for AOL Shopping appears to be the AOL-enhanced version of Internet
Explorer. Pages with numerous links appeared when I made my choice. I discovered
that, despite my assumptions to the contrary, I could use the links list feature
of JFW to list the links in a much more user-friendly fashion. I wouldn’t use
this much, however, unless I was familiar with the page, because of an excessive
number of links on a given page in AOL Shopping.
After clicking on the link for “Jewelry and Watches”, I was taken to a page
that featured links including rings, necklaces, earrings, etc. Clicking on earrings,
I was now taken to a page of categories, including gold, silver, diamond, pearl,
and gemstones. In turn, I was taken, after choosing the gem stones link, to
a page featuring among other things, the obligatory search box, links for finding
local stores, or shopping on eBay, and even an A-Z directory. The link that
made me curious was “Shopping List”, which (it turns out) is a sort of wish
list. More on that later.
This page also featured the first 9 products fitting the category of gem stone
earrings. After double-checking with my beloved on how much I could spend,
I went on to paging through the selections.
The one minor drawback I noticed in the browser, and I discovered this for
the first time while researching this very article, is that you cannot, unlike
in the regular Internet Explorer, tab from link to link. You have to arrow down
the page to hear the links one by one.
After finding just the right earrings, featuring both mine and my bride’s birth
stones, I clicked on the link for it. There was a very nice text description
of the product, and links appropriate to ordering. I saw a link labeled “add
to shopping list”, and I clicked on it. This is when I discovered that this
was the AOL equivalent to a wish list. You can consult this “Shopping List”
yourself, make it publicly available (though I’m not sure why you’d want to),
or even e-mail it to people you know who would be interested in reading it.
Knowing there were other, real life tasks beckoning to me, I chose to use the
shopping list so as to be able to come back later.
To my surprise, moments later, I received an e-mail from “AOL Shopping” thanking
me for setting up a shopping list. I love this feature…both the shopping list,
and the welcoming e-mail. I just think it lacks one thing: a link to access
your shopping list. Obviously, this isn’t an accessibility issue, because everyone,
blind or sighted, could benefit from such a link within an e-mail like this.
It’s a mere nuisance, though, because when you’re in the AOL shopping area,
it’s very easy to access your shopping list, as every page has a link for it.
Once you’ve accessed your shopping list, the page for your list has links for
all the items on your list. Each item has three links, one labeled with the
name of the product, and then a “ready to buy” link, and a “remove” link. The
bottom of the page also has a “clear my list” link, if you want to scrap your
list and start from scratch.
Now, up to this point, I was very happy. Then, a nightmare combination of accessibility
problems and inconvenient approaches on AOL’s part conspired to frustrate me
to the point of wanting to pull out my hair.
First of all, when I was ready to check out, a potentially convenient service
of AOL came into play. It’s called “quick checkout”. A dialog appeared informing
me that quick checkout could fill out the order form (the jewelry vendor in
this case was the macys.com
web site) with the billing information for my AOL account. This seemed extremely
useful…until, that is, the Macy’s site needed the credit card verification number. This
is a three or four digit number on the back of your credit card. Being as this
is in print, and I didn’t remember the number, I had to (again) postpone my
Now, the real fun began. To the best of my knowledge, there was one way to
get back to the point I was at when I had to quit in mid-purchase. I assumed
the sole way to do this was to re-trace my steps to get there to begin with. Not
so. It didn’t help that the “shopping bag” (Macy’s answer to the web site shopping
cart) isn’t labeled clearly enough to give a blind user the clue that it’s the
shopping bag. When you first see this link on the page it says “1 item”, or
whatever, based on how many items you have in your “bag”.
If I had known this to begin with, I wouldn’t have added 2 other pairs of the
same earrings to my order. Thankfully, the extra pairs were easily removed.
My other problem was that, during my numerous attempts to make my purchase,
JAWS would randomly crash on me, forcing me to have to re-start my computer. So,
the process had to begin from scratch.
Okay, so I get to a point where I can use my “AOL Wallet”, and this quick checkout,
and I set up a quick checkout account. I did this—convinced I had used
a memorable password. Apparently, I either didn’t remember it, or didn’t enter
it properly, because the system didn’t recognize the password I entered as valid.
When I tried two other ones I commonly use (just in case), I got what I will
call a “three strikes” message. At this point I was directed to answer the security
question I had set up with the account.
Well, it would appear that I had the same problem(s) with my security answer,
because I was, to my surprise and frustration, locked out of my account for
24 hours! I admit, I may have made an error in typing the password, and/or the
security question answer, but I am usually very careful, and have a decent memory
as to my choice of password. I mention this because I am inclined to believe
(for the moment) that there was an error on AOL’s end.
Needless to say, I think it would be much easier to just go to a local Macy’s
and buy the earrings at this point. I’ve had much better luck with my non-AOL
on-line purchases. I will admit, however, I am not sure how much of this is
related to the AOL wallet feature, and how much is related to me possibly forgetting
the correct password. User error is a distinct possibility.
A Summary of AOL and Accessibility
So, here we are, at the end of our AOL journey. Overall, I find AOL to be fairly
accessible, and to be making a strong effort to live up to their promises to
make the AOL service more user-friendly to blind computer users. Sure, there
are glitches, and whole areas, that need vast improvement in their accessibility.
As a whole, though, I can honestly tell any blind person who is interested in
using the Internet that I can recommend AOL as a viable and accessible ISP alternative.
Naturally, I give them several caveats, but then I leave it up to them to choose.
So, AOL, you’ve come a long way, baby, and you do have a way to go, but you’re