Accessibility the Amazon Way

September 22, 2017 BY SOFIA ENAMORADO
Updated: February 2, 2021

Since its origin in 1995, Amazon has taken the internet by a storm.

Although they started selling only books, they quickly grew and expanded their product offerings to become a place where you can check off every item on your shopping list with the click of a button.

Amazon basically created online shopping.

As a predominantly online business, Amazon ensures that all users can have equal access to their offerings and website.

For Amazon, accessibility is second nature, and it’s incorporated into all their operations.

Amazon is guided by four principles, and these four principles have also helped shape how Amazon approaches accessibility. As a mega-corporation (it’s the largest internet company by revenue in the world!), Amazon has created a seamless approach to accessibility. Below are some lessons they shared in a recent webinar entitled, Accessible Video at Amazon.

Amazon’s four principles

Work at Amazon is guided by four principles:

  • Customer obsession
  • Invent
  • Think long term
  • It’s always done Day One

amazon four principles customer obsession, invent, think long term, done on day one

Customer Obsession With millions of customers and over 300,000 employees, Amazon is an emblem of diversity. As a customer obsessive company, it’s no surprise that Amazon works to honor that diversity and make the user experience as accessible as possible.

Amazon listens to their customers and is constantly encouraging customer feedback to help improve their products.

Invent Part of Amazon’s allure is their relentlessness to keep inventing. And when it comes to accessible products, they are constantly developing, testing, drawing out, and inventing. Amazon knows that there is a solution for everything, and they will continue to create innovative technologies to help their customers live a simpler life.

Think long term As an industry disrupter, many projects take time to be accepted and understood in the marketplace. Thinking long-term allows time for adoption and understanding.

It’s always done Day One As Jeff Bezos puts it in an interview with Success, “There’s always more invention in the future. There’s always new ways of customer innovation and new ways to obsess over customers.”

Involving Amazonians every step of the way

people standing on steps

Amazon’s diversity spans well beyond their customers and floods into their employees, or “Amazonians.” Within the Amazonian clan, there is a group of AmazonPWD’s (person with disabilities) who are included in every stage of product design, regardless of the department they actually belong in. This is a critical step in their development process.

Accessible design is about making products that are accessible to the people that need them, so including AmazonPWD’s in the every step of the design process, is critical so that there are no missed opportunities or inaccessible elements in the final design.

No department is left without an accessibility expert

Beyond the AmazonPWD’s input, Amazon makes sure every department has an accessibility team. For example, in their device accessibility team, there is an accessibility team that works alongside the developers to improve and add accessibility features into all of Amazon’s devices. In their content organization team, there is also an accessibility team, who builds accessible e-books. In video, there’s a team that works to add captions, audio descriptions, and other elements into their video offerings. And in retail, a team that works to improve the website’s accessibility.

Having these experts be part of every team is a testament of how Amazon views accessibility. Accessibility is a part of a product, just like speakers are part of the Alexa, or a screen is part of a Kindle.

Beginning with accessibility

In 2006, Amazon launched their streaming video initiative. Since its launch, Amazon’s streaming service has spanned to include Amazon originals like The Man in The High Castle and Transparent, as well as user-generated content submitted via Amazon Video Direct.

Amazon has always been good with captioning their own content and are working to have other streaming content captioned as well. In fact, in 2015, Amazon made a deal with the National Association of the Deaf to ensure their library of over 190,000 TV shows and movies would get closed captioned.

the man in the high castle amazon with audio description and captioning preferences

Amazon’s own Prime catalog is already 100% captioned. If a popular video doesn’t come with captions, they pay for captioning, even if it comes from a studio or network.

All video submitted via Amazon Video Direct (a service for uploading self-streaming videos) requires that it comes with captions, otherwise, it’s rejected.

In addition, Amazon is also working to expand their audio description offerings, and have already launched over 100 movies and 10 Amazon Original Series with audio description.

Amazon’s captioning and audio description approach has two key takeaways. One is that if we start by making our content accessible in the beginning, we have less work to do in the future. And the other is that no matter how much content you have, you don’t have to make it accessible right away. You can start by prioritizing popular content and then continue to work your way to full compliance.

Make your commitment to accessibility public

pencil signing

The most important thing you can do to build a strong accessibility-focused culture at your company is to be vocal about why you are committing to inclusivity and why it matters, both internally and externally.

Internally, Amazon has created awareness of the importance of accessibility by inserting accessibility into the everyday workflow. Externally, they are vocal about their intentions through conferences, events, and even on their website.

By being vocal, Amazon is setting an example and standard for other organizations, as well as making their customers aware that they care and will continue to innovate in the name of accessibility.

Watch the full webinar below!


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