I’ll be doing some more targeted journalism on this issue in the near future, so all of you may consider this article to be a rant. ILA continues to have some real problems with selling inaccessible products with inaccessible documentation to blind people, then trying to deliver customer service that’s inappropriate for blind customers.

On Monday, June 8, I received a couple of anniversary gifts from Karen. They were purchased from ILA. One was a Franklin English and Spanish Talking Translator. Karen thought this might help me learn and practice Spanish. There were a number of problems with this gift that, in my opinion, shouldn’t have existed when ordering from a business in the disabilities field. First, it was packaged in one of those hard plastic containers that’s almost impossible to open. Second, the product was accompanied only by a small print booklet. Its documentation was not supplied in any accessible alternative format. Third, and worst of all, the product itself was completely inaccessible for a blind person! Karen’s boss helped her figure out how to use the product. There’s no feedback as you press its keys. Only after typing a word can you press another key to hear it translated in Spanish. That’s the only talking this product does; everything else is displayed on a small LCD.

This morning, I contacted ILA’s customer service department and got Maryann on the phone. I mentioned the three issues above, but she wasn’t at all interested in hearing what I had to say. She was willing to process an RMA to return the product. After giving me the RMA number, she reminded me to fill out the form included in the box. After telling her I was blind, she asked me if I could have a sighted person assist. Frustrated at this point, I said no and indicated that I felt it was inappropriate for her to ask given the field in which ILA does business. I reminded her that blind people are not able to see and, thus, we are not able to directly read or write print without personal or technological assistance. Of course, we can do so easily when information and technology is delivered in a way that’s accessible to us. Apparently, ILA does not have an accessible copy of the RMA form on hand. She gave me the RMA number and ILA’s mailing address without requiring me to complete the form. Fortunately, I am going to be able to return the inaccessible product, but we’re going to get stuck with the shipping cost! Yeah, that’s right. It’s “company policy…”

I am very disappointed with ILA. Their people continue to sell inaccessible products or products without appropriate documentation to blind customers. At this point, I would like to see ILA do the following things to improve the situation:

  • Review all products being offered to ensure they are appropriate for ILA’s customer base.
  • When a product is not fully accessible, provide relevant information in the printed catalog and on the web site.
  • Train everyone answering the phone on how to communicate with customers in such a way so that they are fully aware of which products are accessible to which types of users. For instance, tell the customer if a product requires some sight.
  • Ensure that appropriate documentation is supplied in an accessible format for each product sold.

Independent Living Aids, being a company that does business in the blindness field and sells to the blind community and those who care about us, really should know better! The company should be a leader! We really shouldn’t need to have this unfortunate discussion in the connected online blind community about inaccessibility within the companies that do business with us. Come on, ILA and other offending companies, get with the program already!