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PotentialPricingDiscriminationDuetoInaccessible

WebSites

JonathanLazar,1BrianWentz,2
MatthewBogdan1,EdrickClowney1,MatthewDavis1,JosephGuiffo1,Danial
Gunnarsson1,DustinHanks1,JohnHarris1,BehnjayHolt1,MarkKitchin1,Mark
Motayne1,RoslinNzokou1,LeelaSedaghat1,KathrynStern1
(preprintversion,acceptedforpublicationintheProceedingsofINTERACT2011)

1
TowsonUniversity,DepartmentofComputerandInformationSciences,
Towson,MD,USA21252
jlazar@towson.edu
2
FrostburgStateUniversity,DepartmentofComputerScienceand
InformationTechnology,Frostburg,MD,USA21532
bwentz@acm.org

Abstract. Although tools and design guidelines exist to make web sites
accessible,amajorityofwebsitescontinuetobeinaccessible.Whenawebsite
offersspecialpricesthatareavailableonlyonthewebsite(notthephysical
store),andthewebsiteitselfisinaccessible,thiscanleadtodiscriminatory
pricing,wherepeoplewithdisabilitiescouldenduppayinghigherpricesthan
peoplewithoutdisabilitieswhocanaccessthewebsiteandtakeadvantageof
the onlineonly prices. This research examined whether 10 of the top e
commercewebsiteswhichofferonlineonlypricespecialsareaccessible.The
resultsrevealedthatthereweremultiplecategoriesofaccessibilityviolations
foundonalloftheevaluatedwebsites.

Keywords:discrimination,webaccessibility,disabilities,ecommerce

1Introduction

Webaccessibilityistheconceptofmakingsurethatwebsitescanworkproperlyfor
userswithdisabilitiesthatareusingalternativeinputoroutputdevices,suchasscreen
readers oradaptivekeyboards. Typically,forawebsitetobeaccessible, itmust
followasetofdesignguidelines,suchasthewebguidelinesfromSection508(U.S.
Law), or the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) from the Web
AccessibilityInitiative(WAI).Othercountriesalsohavelegislationthat relatesto
web site accessibility, including the Equality Act in the U.K. [6], Act on Equal
OpportunitiesforDisabledPersonsinGermany[4],andtheDisabilityDiscrimination
ActinAustralia[1],tonameafew.
Althoughtoolsanddesignguidelinesexisttomakewebsitesaccessible,amajority
ofwebsitescontinuetobeinaccessible.VariousauthorshavedocumentedhowU.S.
federal andstategovernment websites,universitywebsites,airline websites,e
commercesites,andemploymentwebsitescontinuetobeinaccessible[5],[7],[8],[8],
[10].However,thereisanadditionalproblem:websiteinaccessibilityoftenleadsto
other unwanted societal effects, such as pricing discrimination. A previous study
documented that, when airline web sites are inaccessible, people with disabilities
mustusetheairlinecallcenter,whichcanleadtotheindividualpayingahigher
airfare(eventhoughthatisagainstthelaw)[11].
Formanystores,therearetwocomponentstotheenterprise:thephysical,brick
andmortarstore,andtheonline,ecommercesite.Thesetwocomponentsareoften
tightlyintegrated(forinstance,storessuchasWalMartallowacustomertoorder
fromthewebsiteandhaveanitemshippedtoalocalstore),butmanyecommerce
sitesofferspecialwebonlypriceswhicharenotavailableinthephysicalstoreor
overthephone.Whenawebsiteoffersspecialpricesthatareavailableonlyonthe
website,andthewebsiteitselfisinaccessible,thiscanleadtodiscriminatorypricing.

2ResearchMethodology

Thereweretwocomponentstothisresearch:stageonewasdeterminingwhichlarge
storeshavebothphysicalandonlinecomponentsandofferspecialwebonlyprices,
and stage twowas evaluating those web sites for accessibility. The 50 largest e
commercesitesintheU.S.accordingto[2]werenarrowedto41siteswhichhadboth
physical stores and ecommerce sites (the other nine ecommerce sites, such as
Amazon.comandZappos,hadnophysicalcounterpart).Next,those41websites
were examined to determine which sites had webonly special prices using the
followingfivestepprocess:

1. Examinedafewitems,toseeiftherewasaseparateonlineonlyprice.
2. Searchedforahotdeals(orsomethingsimilar)sectiononthewebsite,and
checkedforonlineonlydeals.Checkedifthereareanyflyersordealslocated
onlyinalocalarea(ifazipcodeisrequired).
3. Searchedtheecommercesitessearchengineusingthephraseonlineonly.
4. SearchedusingGoogleadvancedsearch,settothedomainoftheecommerce
site,andtheexactphraseonlineonly(becausemanywebsitesearchengines
areactuallyproductsearchengines,notkeywordsearchengines).
5. Signedupforanemailmailinglistforspecials,andmonitoredforaweekto
determineifanywebonlyspecialsweresentout.

Afterevaluatingforonlineonlypricesorspecials,itwasdeterminedthatthe10
largeststoresthathadonlineonlyprices(inorder,startingfromthelargest)were:
Staples,OfficeDepot,OfficeMax,Sears,BestBuy,Costco,VictoriasSecret,Macys,
GapDirect,andNeimanMarcus.Toevaluatetheaccessibilityofthewebsitesduring
stagetwo,expertinspectionswereconducted(withmultiple,independentevaluators
for each web site) using a screen reader, since thisis considered to be themost
effectiveformofaccessibilityevaluationforcompliancewithstandards[12]andmost
accuratewhenmultipleevaluatorsinspectthesamewebsite[10].
TheexpertevaluationswereconductedduringNovemberandDecember2010by
utilizingthewebsiteaccessibilitystandardsofSection508(1194.22)oftheU.S.
RehabilitationAct,whichinvolve16guidelines,whicharereferredtoasparagraphs
athroughp[14].Theexpert evaluationprocesswasguidedbytheAbsolute
Minimum Accessibility Inspection which has been used effectively in other
accessibility evaluations [10]. Each paragraph of the Section 508 guidelines is
consideredtobeweightedequally,andtheexistenceofaparagraphviolationfora
websitewasrecorded.Eachwebsitewasindividuallyevaluatedbyaminimumof
fourindividualswithoutdisabilities(duetothetotalnumberofevaluatorsinvolved,
somewebsitesreceivedfiveevaluations).Allevaluatorsthenmet,discussedtheir
individual evaluations, and compiled one meta evaluation, which typically has a
higherlevelofvaliditythanonlyoneevaluation[13].Table1isasummaryofthe
Section508guidelineswiththeassociatedparagraphletters.

Table1.Summarydescriptionofthe16paragraphsoftheU.S.Section508webguidelines.

Paragrap SummaryDescription
h
A TextEquivalent(haveatextequivalentforanygraphicalelements)
B SynchronizedEquivalentAlternatives(havecaptionedvideo,transcriptsofany
audio,orotheralternativesformultimedia)
C Use of Color (color should not be used as the only method for identifying
elementsofthewebpageoranydata)
D Organization(stylesheetsareencouraged,butusersshouldstillbeabletoutilize
awebpagewhenstylesheetsareturnedoff)
E,F Redundant Text Links on ServerSide Image Map and (f) ClientSide Image
Maps (redundant clickable links for serverside image maps, and accessible
clientsideimagemapsarepreferred)
G,H RowandColumnHeaders(useappropriateheadersandmarkuptoalloweasy
navigationofatable)
I Frames (title all frames and label all frames for easy identification and
navigation,e.g.,usenavigationmaincontentandsearchratherthantop
orbottom)
J ScreenFlickerFrequency(limitoreliminatetheuseofflickering, which can
provokeseizures)
K TextOnlyPageDefault(ifawebpagecannotbemadeaccessible,providean
equivalenttextonlypage,andmakesureitiskeptuptodate)
L ScriptingLanguages(makesurethatequivalentsforanynonaccessiblescripting
areincluded,e.g.,forthosewhoarenotusingpointingdevices)
M LinkedPlugInorApplet(ifanypluginsarerequired,makesuretoprovidea
linktoanaccessibleversionoftheplugin)
N OnlineElectronicForms(allformsmustbeproperlylabeledandaccessible)
O MethodtoSkipRepetitiveNavigationLinks(allwebpagesshouldhavealink
which allows a user to skip directly to the main content, bypassing any site
navigationinformation)
P AlertsonTimedResponses(ifanypageresponsesaretimed,theusershouldbe
giventheopportunitytoindicatethatmoretimeisneeded)

3Results

Theaccessibilityevaluationsofthesewebsitesrevealedthatall10websitesviolated
at least one paragraph of the Section 508 guidelines, with an average of three
paragraphsviolatedperwebsite.ThevarietyofviolationsrangedfromOfficeMax
violating only paragraph a (alternate text equivalent) to Costco violating five
paragraphs(a,d,h,i,ando).Staplesviolatedparagraphsa,b,andmwithbuttonsand
imagesthatdidnothavealternatetextandflashcontentwithoutanalternative.An
example of the impact this could have on pricing was that the Staples Cyber
Monday links were not accessible. OfficeDepot also violated the same three
paragraphs for similar reasons, and a promotional video lacked transcripts or
captioning.OfficeMaxviolatedonlyparagrapha(lackoftextequivalentforsomeof
thegraphicalelementsonthesite).Searsviolatedparagraphsa,b,andowithlackof
alternatetext,nomethodofskippingrepetitivenavigationallinksandthelackof
transcriptsorcaptioningforapromotionaldealsvideo.
BestBuyviolatedparagraphsa,b,f,andmwiththelackofalternatetext,aflash
videowithnoalternativewaytoreachorreadthecontent,andnolinkstotherequired
plugin.Anexampleoftheimpactthatthiscouldhaveonpricingdiscriminationis
thedealssectionthatcannotbeaccessedwithouttheuseofamouseontheBestBuy
websiteasillustratedinFigure1.
Fig.1. Screenshot ofthedealssectionontheBestBuywebsitewhichcannot be
accessedbythekeyboardalone.
Costcohadviolationsinfiveparagraphs(a,d,h,i,ando),andthoseviolations
included the lack of functional skip navigation links, poor alternate text, lack of
functionalitywithoutthestylesheet,andframesandtablesthatwerenotlabeledor
poorlylabeled.VictoriasSecretviolatedparagraphsaando,withlackingalternate
textandamethodtoskiprepetitivenavigationallinks.TheMacyswebsiteviolated
paragraphsa,b,andlwithlackofalternatetext,inaccessiblevideos,andascriptto
displayapromotionalcodethatwasnotaccessiblewithascreenreader.GapDirect
violatedparagraphsa,l,m,andnwithlackofalternatetext,inaccessiblescripting,no
link for the flash plugin, and unlabeled form fields. NeimanMarcus violated
paragraphsa,n,andowithlackofalternatetextonimagesandbuttons,formswith
incorrectlabels,andnolinktoskiprepetitivenavigationallinks.Table2showsthe
resultsofwhichwebsitesviolatedwhichparagraphsoftheSection508guidelines.
Table2.ResultsofViolationsoftheSection508Guidelines.

VictoriasSecret

NeimanMarcus
Summaryof

OfficeDepot
Secion508

OfficeMax

GapDirect
Paragraph
Violations

BestBuy

Macys
Staples

Costco
Sears
a)Alternatetextfor x x x x x x x x x x
images/othervisuals
b)Synch.Multimedia x x x x x
c)Meaningthrough
coloralsoavail.w/o
d)Readablew/oCSS x
e,f)Server/Client x
sideimagemaps
g,h)Tableheaders/ x
markup
i)Frameshavelabels x
j)Noblinkingor
flashing
k)Textpageif
needed
l)Scriptinglanguages x x
m)Applets/Plugins x x x x
n)Forms x x
o)Skipnavigation x x x x
p)Timedresponse
TotalCategories 3 3 1 3 4 5 2 3 4 3
Violated

4Conclusion

Companies must pay careful attention to the accessibility of their interfaces,


particularlysothatallindividualsareprovidedequalaccesstoallcontent.Ifpeople
withdisabilitiescannotaccesspricingdealsorspecialsonecommercewebsites,
itcouldleadtopricingdiscrimination.Discriminationagainstanindividualonthe
basisofdisabilityisclearlyagainstthelawinmanycountries.IntheU.S.,the2007
courtcaseinvolvingTarget.com[3]illustratedthenecessityforbusinessestopay
closerattentiontowebsiteaccessibility.
Individualsinvolvedindesigningormaintainingtheseinterfacesmustcarefully
designtostandards,suchasWCAG.WCAG(WebContentAccessibilityGuidelines)
formthebasisforwebaccessibilitypoliciesthroughouttheworld,includingSection
508intheU.S.Oneexampleofhowtheaccessibilityviolationsdiscoveredinthis
studyconflictwithWCAGisseenin WCAG2.0Principle2,whichspecifiesthat
interfacesmustbenavigablethroughakeyboardinterface[15].
Somebasicrecommendationsthatcansignificantlyimprovetheaccessibilityofa
websitecanbederivedfromeitherWCAGorotherregulations,suchasSection508
intheU.S.(recallTable1).WCAG2.0summarizesitsguidelinesbyaninterface
beingperceivable,operable,understandable,androbust[15].Perceivablemeansthat
an interface must provide alternatives for the types of media that are presented,
whetherinherentlyvisual,auditory,orhaptic.Operablemeansthatalluserscanread
andusethecontent,evenfromakeyboardalone.Italsomeansthatusersshouldhave
enoughtimetoreadcontent,beeasilyabletoknowwheretheyare,andbeconfident
thatthedesignofaninterfacewillnotinherentlycauseaseizure.Understandable
means that content should be readable and easy to understand, have predictable
operation,andassistuserswithavoidingandcorrectingmistakes.Robustmeansthat
aninterfaceshouldbeabletobeaccessedregardlessofthetechnologyusedtoaccess
it,includingassistivetechnologies[15].
Policymakers and those responsible for enforcing current laws (including civil
rightslegislation)shouldbeawareoftheimpactthatwebinaccessibilitycanhaveon
thecivilrightsofindividualswithdisabilities.FollowingguidelinessuchasWCAG
andperformingregularevaluationsontheaccessibilityandusabilityofaninterface,
involvinguserswithdisabilities,accessibilityexperts,andautomatedevaluationtools
willhelptopreventpossiblediscriminationproblems,suchastheonesdiscussedin
thisstudy.Moreresearchneedstobedoneonhowinaccessiblewebsitescanleadto
unwanted andpossiblyillegal actionssuchas pricingdiscrimination,employment
discrimination,andsocietalexclusion.

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