January 23rd, 2012
The UK’s largest supermarket chain Tesco has said it is taking seriously concerns raised about the inaccessibility of its new smartphone app, and is to work with the RNIB to improve the situation.
The statement was issued after E-Access Bulletin raised questions with the company about the experiences of Steph Cutler, a small business adviser and personal coach who has impaired vision. Cutler approached EAB after becoming dissatisfied with the new Tesco shopping app and with the retailer’s initial response to her complaints.
“I love the iPhone – it has really changed my life, and on the whole, the apps I’ve got are pretty usable,” she said. “So when I downloaded the Tesco app I was excited to think I could use it to shop – although their website is accessible, I find it very time-consuming. But it turns out that the app is totally inaccessible with [the iPhone’s screenreader] VoiceOver. Basically, the app says the same thing whatever product you touch.”
After Cutler asked the RNIB to take a look and they had supported her assessment, she contacted Tesco to complain, but says the company’s initial response was unsatisfactory.
“I emailed them and they rang me back very quickly, but the poor lad from customer services just said ‘we know it’s inaccessible’, though he didn’t seem to know what that meant. He had obviously just been told to call, and he was trying to say he accepted it didn’t work, but that it was OK. He also categorically refused to let me talk to someone else.
“I emailed again, and another email came back saying they care about accessibility – but with no details of any remedial plan.”
Subsequently, after E-Access Bulletin had made its own enquiries into the case, Tesco did produce a fuller response. A spokesperson for Tesco said: “The software used in the iPhone application is cutting edge technology and we will be always aiming to improve the functionality of the application.
“We have taken the concerns raised seriously and recently contacted the RNIB to work with them in identifying features that will improve accessibility for the product.
“At this time, we are unable to give any timescales as to when this will be completed. Any amendments to the application will need to be built and tested, and will therefore take time to complete.”
Tesco has now also been back in touch with Cutler to relay the same message, which she welcomes. “I am hoping they will be true to their word, and I do intend to monitor this one,” she said.
However, she says she still fails to understand why such a large company in the 21st century is failing to design in accessibility from the first release of a technology offering such as their new app.
“One argument about whether accessibility can be included is often resources, and rightly sometimes – but you just can’t say that about Tesco,” Cutler says. “We are talking about a massive retailer for whom resources aren’t a problem. They understand some of it, because they do some of it. It made me, as a visually impaired shopper, feel a little bit second class.
“I do accept apps are new, and the accessibility might change in future, but as a user I’m discriminated against.
“The point I put to them is that at the start of anything, you have a choice – you can choose to put accessibility into how it will function. But this time, either they briefed a developer and they didn’t put any emphasis on accessibility, or the developer just didn’t do it. It is far harder for them now – they will have to change code, which will be a biggish job. But it wouldn’t be a big job if they thought about it as a matter of course and didn’t put anything out that most of our customers can’t access.”
Ultimately, she says, it is a question of leadership. ““The bottom line is I feel as if I’ve been treated less favourably for reasons of my disability. It doesn’t feel like it’s been taken seriously from the top down – it doesn’t feel like the decision-maker has taken an inclusive approach, so why should customer service?”