Accessibility of gift cards court cases
I have to say that I am pretty happy with the direction of society in terms of money (other than that, things are pretty bonkers). I don’t miss the days of having to carry and keep track of a wallet full of bills. For the most part, I use my ATM for purchases and know the locations of all the buttons on most manufacturer’s debit card machines. It is great to be able to make a purchase then check my bank app right away to ensure that the proper amount was charged. One area that is still very difficult to navigate however is the purchase of and use of gift cards.
Wall of confusion
Most grocery stores have a large wall dedicated to purchasable gift cards from a variety of industries. The problem resides in the fact that most of the gift cards appear the same to someone who is visually impaired, or have no discernable markings for those who are totally blind. Without asking for help, there is no way for someone who cannot read the text to pick out the correct gift card. To make matters worse, many of the gift cards have different denominations but all look similar. As an example, you can buy a Visa gift card for anywhere from 15 to 100 dollars in separate increments, or buy one which has a variable amount of up to 500 dollars – and all of these cards look relatively the same. It would be very easy for someone with limited vision to buy a 100 dollar card instead of a 50 dollar card. The person checking you out does not generally confirm the purchased amount with you and therefore you end up with a card that has double the intended amount. If this example seems very specific, try and guess who this actually happened to.
The other side of the problem coin arises when you receive a gift card. The cards always need to be activated and this is often done by reading eye-inducingly small text on the back of the card packaging that is difficult to read even for those who are fully sighted. The websites that the recipient needs to navigate to create an account and track their balance with are often antiquated and lacking in the accessibility department.
Several lawsuits were filed in 2019 by a handful of clients seeking change to the accessibility of gift card sales. These suits were not focused on grocery stores but encompassed a large variety of retailers like Kohls who sell gift cards. In May 2020, quite a few of these suits were thrown out because of lack of standing and the position that the ADA does not require the sale of specialty items for the visually impaired. Yes, the retailer’s association rejoiced and reveled in their victories because the judges regarded the basic right to know what you were buying as specialty products. This week several more cases are to be heard but the outcome is not also not looking good for these cases because of the snags they have encountered.
Seeing the other side
Retailers spend a ton of money creating packaging and forcing them to include braille would increase that cost, which would be passed along to the customer. They would need braille writers and a specific round of quality assurance for the braille and the machines that create the packaging would need to be able to produce the braille. That doesn’t make it right, nor does it validate the refusal to include braille on the packaging. This does highlight a larger systematic issue around accessibility for product packaging, I think it is very unlikely that the ADA will be able to convince the retailers association that industry-wide change is necessary for this issue. Don’t get me wrong, being able to clearly identify what I am buying at the grocery store would be a wonderful thing, but expecting every manufacturer large and small to adopt some kind of braille markings just is not going to happen.
If industry-wide change is not an option then finding another route that will allow the visually impaired to read everything is the next best approach. Image recognition technology will be the knight in shining armor for the blind and visually impaired community, but it will take time and the creation of infrastructure. We already have apps like be my eyes which can connect you to a sighted person for help in this sort of situation, but my hope is that an application will be on the horizon that can identify the object put in front of it with acceptable accuracy.
Change tends to take a long time, and industry-wide change is often daunting and seemingly impossible to pull off. The kind of change that would be required to have all manufacturers large and small include accessible packaging seems impossible, but they did get nutrition facts on products, so how is braille any different? It is because the inclusion of braille falls under the specialty product heading in the government’s eyes – which is sad. The best hope to resolve this issue is going to be technology-based, but there are a ton of issues surrounding a technological answer as well.
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