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Why the visually challenged are signing petitions addressed to apps such as Zomato, Swiggy

Recent petitions have drawn attention to the problems visually challenged users face while using popular delivery apps such as Dunzo, JioMart, Grofers and others.

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New Delhi: The challenges of the pandemic and the lockdown saw a significant shift in technology use, with more people going digital. However, for the visually challenged, the transition hasn’t been that easy.

Aziz Minat, a 29-year-old banker, is 100 per cent visually challenged and cannot see at all. Given that he lives on his own in Ahmedabad, he tends to rely on food delivery apps quite a bit.

In February, Aziz started a petition asking Zomato to improve its accessibility for people like him.

Zomato replied in just over a month, assuring him it would look into the matter. Aziz said, to his surprise, they did improve their technology making it a smoother experience for him.

Aziz started a similar petition, asking Swiggy to do the same.

The problem people like Aziz face in using apps or websites is that they need to be enabled to work with a screen reader. A screen reader, as the name indicates, reads out loud the text. While for someone with no particular visibility issues, the app experience is a mix of reading the descriptions and looking at the photographs, a visually challenged person relies on the text being read out, including descriptions of the photos.

To this end, apps need to come with in-built text descriptions of all aspects of the platform.

A screen reader feature is readily available on most smartphones nowadays. It can be switched on from the ‘accessibility’ section in a phone setting menu. However, apps and sites need to be built with the text features so screen readers can read out from the app.

“Two years ago, Swiggy had one of the best pro-accessibility apps … even better than Zomato app. But now, it is worse than what Zomato was,” said Aziz.

Jeegar Pithva, also a bank employee but in Vadodara, said he found Swiggy to be quite accessible, but has other issues. “Selecting a restaurant is difficult. Say I want to select a McDonald’s burger, and I select this option. However, what is ultimately selected in the app is some other restaurant. This might be because the app doesn’t focus the cursor accurately,” the 27-year-old said who also has a 100 per cent visual impairment.

The issues are not just limited to food delivery apps but to other commonly used applications such as Amazon, Grofers and even social media apps such as Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

Also read: Swiggy lays off 1,100 employees, offers 3 months’ salary and help in career transition

Petition for changes

Aziz had petitioned Zomato on 7 February asking for the app to be made compatible with screen readers. Zomato responded on 12 March saying it had incorporated certain changes to make it more accessible.

In an email response to ThePrint, Zomato said, “Our app was already compatible at large with existing screen reader functionalities for both Android and iOS. However, after receiving meaningful feedback from users including Aziz Minat earlier this year, we decided to benchmark our app against WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) standards.

“We were able to solve the anomalies within a week by conducting internal accessibility audits. We have now made these audits a regular practice and accessibility an inherent part of our development culture,” the spokesperson added.

The new features included proper grouping of components, contrast ratio and image handling so the app could better work with a screen reader.

“From being one of the worst apps for accessibility for visually challenged users, Zomato is one of the best apps in the business. It has improved massively,” Aziz said.

Following Zomato’s response, Aziz started another petition on 18 June asking Swiggy for similar changes. However, three months later, Swiggy is yet to upscale its app.

Swiggy responded to the petition on 11 September promising to address the matter. “Thank you for your efforts in bringing this up, Aziz! Everyone should be able to access and enjoy Swiggy. We’re committed towards making this a reality, and are currently working on the updates that will support screen readers and dynamic text,” Swiggy wrote.

ThePrint reached Swiggy on email for a comment but did not receive one till the time of publishing this report. However, a source in PR company associated with Swiggy said Zomato was able to respond more quickly since it already had some of the accessibility features built in, but Swiggy will need to start building these features at a basic level and hence will take time to roll out an improved version.

Also read: With food delivery bouncing back, Zomato plans IPO next year

Other apps behind the curve too

It isn’t just Zomato and Swiggy; visually challenged users say the experience is sub optimal across many other apps.

“Apps from the USA tend to be better designed for accessibility than Indian apps,” said Pithva.

Ajay Minocha, a 28-year-old credit officer with a German bank, said: “In India, app developers in general don’t focus on accessibility. For most Indian apps, if it is accessible, then it is an accessibility design added by accident.”

Both Pithva and Minocha said they faced far fewer issues on Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. For WhatsApp, Pithva said there is a “minor issue where if you select the ‘read more’ option on a long message, the screen reader does not read the message”.

Minocha said Facebook and Instagram would be better if the app could announce the number of people or faces in focus as one takes a selfie or livestream. He also said that while using Amazon, he noted the ‘buy now’ option was hard to find, and the search function didn’t work well at times.

Pithva, though, said he found Amazon to be “quite accessible”, but had issues in using the search function “because it didn’t announce names of products”, and also had trouble with the CVV number while making the payment.

On Indian apps like Grofers, Pithva and Minocha noted issues with the search function — “If I swipe, the app doesn’t say the product name, but will make a ‘tick tick’ sound — and with labelling of  buttons — “some buttons just read out ‘R’, ‘P’”.

Yogesh Taneja, who is the president of cricket association for blind in Delhi, also said he faced similar issues with the labelling of icons while using Grofers, which is a grocery delivery app. The 36-year-old noted similar accessibility challenges with Dunzo, another delivery app.

“On the first page, after the address selection, there is a category ‘Top Picks for You’. Under that, there are various buttons having the label ‘image banner’, hence it’s not possible for a visually impaired user to select anything from there,” he said.

Minocha says JioMart is an example of accessibility being a part of the design by accident and not by intention. “It is accessible in some cases, but navigation through the app is so clumsy … If I try to go through the ‘snack’ category, the products tabs are not read out as options that can be selected, so I don’t know if this is a tab I can select … There are accessibility issues with other Jio apps like JioCinema, JioSaavn, JioTV, JioNews.”

Pithva agreed, saying the JioMart app is “a very challenging app to use”.

Also read: How IIT-Delhi start-ups are helping draw visually impaired students into science

‘Companies need more awareness’

Dunzo said it was working on improving its app experience for visually challenged users “in the coming weeks”.

Responding to an email from ThePrint, the company said, “We’ve always believed in inclusivity and we would like to answer this from our user’s perspective.”

Facebook-owned Instagram and WhatsApp, Amazon, Grofers, and Jio’s corporate communication arm were yet to respond to ThePrint’s queries at the time of publishing this report.

The issue, Siddhant Shah, said is a lack of empathy for visually challenged users while designing apps. Shah is the founder of Access For All, a Mumbai-based company that consults with companies, public places, and cultural places like museums on making buildings, apps and sites more accessible to visually challenged users.

“Since we don’t understand the little nuances that can make an app or site more accessible, visually challenged users are deprived of the same benefits visually able users get. It’s not like there are no visually challenged users who can afford to use an app to order food, or buy something online. We need to make apps and sites more accessible which in turn will help business because more users can purchase from the app,” Shah said.

“There are other sites and apps popularly used that could do with some accessibility features. For example, payments app Paytm could be more customised to reading the text out loud”, said Shah.

“Some government sites like the main Aadhaar site can have more accessibility features like Dyslexia Friendly font, colour contrasting elements and reader guides,” he added.

Piyush Chanana, head of innovation and strategy at Saksham, an NGO working to empower persons with visual impairment, said, “Accessibility to apps is a fundamental right for everyone and when apps and sites are not designed so, it is unjust towards disabled users.”

He added there is a lack of awareness among commercial app developers about how to make an app accessible to all.

“All it takes is awareness and knowledge to build accessibility features for your app. It doesn’t cost extra. There are free tools like Google accessibility scanner service to check if you have built the accessibility features correctly in your app, and then testing with users with that disability to see if the app is accessible to them,” he said.

Also read: Put that on your plate: A guide to surviving the lockdown, and your own culinary skills


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