From the American Foundation for the Blind, it appears that RadioShack is announcing some significant accessibility plans for the near future, including a major renovation of their website to accord with the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) guidelines. The press release doesn’t contain a lot of detail, but there’s enough meat present to at least get an impression of RadioShack’s accessibility goals.

There are two parts to the announcement: improvements to their point-of-sale hardware to protect private data of blind and visually impaired shoppers and the web site initiative. The point-of-sale improvement is an upgrade to devices which will enable the visually impaired to enter their PIN numbers and other private data by themselves using tactile input devices, replacing existing touch-screen keypads which are unusable by the blind.

In short, instead of having to provide their private financial data out-loud to RadioShack staff and whoever else happens to be hovering around the store, the blind will be able to enjoy the same privacy as any other visitor to the store. This is a valuable step: it’s only unfortunate that when RadioShack “upgraded” to touch screen input they didn’t take these issues into consideration! “Tactile input” is, after all, pretty much just a fancy way of saying “standard numeric keypad.”

Nonetheless, I can’t help but be appreciative of the concern.

In the second part of the announcement, RadioShack vice president Frank Espinoza states:

The program announced today is one way we can help customers who are blind or visually impaired enjoy a better shopping experience in their neighborhood RadioShack stores as well as on and complements our on-going efforts to improve the shopping experience of all our customers with disabilities[.]

It’s a grand goal. Let’s just see how well they uphold those accessibility guidelines. After taking a glance at the current RadioShack website, I can confidently say that they have quite a ways to go. (As a side note, their code is rather humorous to read — filled with developer’s notes.)

The press release from the AFB also specifically states:

The [WCAG] guidelines, which do not affect the content or look and feel of a Web site, ensure that Web sites are accessible to persons with a wide range of disabilities.

(Emphasis added)

I think it’s particularly important to note the emphasized text. It’s an important part of the Accessites mission to reinforce the idea that accessibility does not have to destroy your carefully crafted design. You just have to craft more carefully. Granted, there are ways in which it will change “look and feel.” Contrast issues in particular need to be changed on websites which have overlooked that important accessibility factor, so this statement isn’t actually 100% true. Nonetheless, the concept holds: and I’m glad that the AFB chose to mention it in their press release.

Three cheers to RadioShack on their intent; but I’ll withhold any serious praise until the finished product is available.