As summer fades and Americans begin planning holiday travel, the average traveler faces a set of challenges and questions – where to go? What to do? How can I get the best deals? Travelers with disabilities face a different set of challenges including the use of online resources to book travel.
According to US Census data, it’s estimated more than 48.9 million people live with disabilities in the US. The National Federation of the Blind’s statistics indicate more than 7 million of those people live with a visual disability . Expedia is working on making travel a little easier for those 7 million people. We caught up with a member of our Accessibility Team to learn more about the work they’ve been doing.
“One of the main issues the blind community faces is a lack of independence; the ability to do things without others’ help” says Toby Willis, an Expedia accessibility engineer and member of the blind community. “When I first started at Expedia, it took me nearly an hour to try and book a trip online. The work my team has been doing completely changed that. We now have one of the most accessible sites in the tech sector.”
In July of 2015, Expedia embarked on a relationship with the National Federation of the Blind to make the Expedia.com and Travelocity.com websites accessible. Through a series of tests and product developments, Expedia engineers like Toby work to make the user experience better for not only blind users, but those with various different disabilities.
The Expedia Accessibility Technology Team consists of front-end developers and testers that use a variety of methods to design and test site improvements that make the Expedia.com and Travelocity.com websites as inclusive as possible. Screen readers (software applications that read out a webpage’s text content and convey visual cues) are commonly used amongst the blind community – to make it easier for these readers to relay information, Expedia engineers have attached text to pictures and structured the code in a way that allows users of assistive technology to efficiently navigate the product pages. Expedia continuously assesses its products, utilizing industry standards that address not only blind users who use assistive tech but those that need captioning for video or audio, do not use a mouse, or have other issues that cause learning or cognitive difficulties.
“We are truly helping all people go places,” says Toby. “Expedia engineers are now trained to design and update our products from the ground up with accessibility in mind. We host educational workshops and trainings for our engineers so that accessibility is a natural extension to usability and a foundation of the user experience we are focused on.”
Today NFB and Expedia remain proud collaborators in improving web accessibility with NFB noting Expedia as a distinguished partner in supporting their mission of providing blind people equal access to goods and services online. “At Expedia, our goal is to help people go places, and our efforts in improving website accessibility for the blind are helping a community of people that previously experienced difficulties in navigating online travel booking paths,” said Aman Bhutani, President, Brand Expedia Group. “Through our relationship with the National Federation of the Blind, we’ve expanded our duty to bring travel to everyone and are encouraged and excited by our progress in this space.”
This holiday season, booking travel on Expedia.com will be much easier for those with disabilities, making the gift of travel a reality for everyone.