A Talking Locker

Mark Riccobono opens a box to retrieve his package from an Amazon Locker.

A Talking Locker

The National Federation of the Blind is the voice of the nation’s blind. We work to ensure that blind people can be fully participating members of our communities. More and more, our ability to participate in our communities and live the lives we want depends on the accessibility of the commonplace technologies being implemented throughout our environments. Therefore, we work to establish partnerships with entities that seek to develop innovative, accessible technologies that are better for everyone, not just people with disabilities. We are proud to have Amazon as one of our partners, and we join with them to share a new feature: the Amazon talking locker, an accessible, secure, self-service kiosk where customers can pick up Amazon.com packages at a time and place that is convenient for them.

A couple of years ago we established a working agreement with Amazon around Kindle education and we told them that there would be many more areas we would want to discuss with them. Amazon Locker was released in 2011, which was many years prior to our new relationship with Amazon. Over the past year  it quickly rose as an opportunity where greater accessibility functions became a priority. Although it took longer than we would want (we would have preferred that Locker would have been accessible at launch), we are encouraged that through direct dialogue, encouragement, and collaboration with the National Federation of the Blind, Amazon Locker is now accessible. This is a demonstration of Amazon’s growing commitment to accessibility and their partnership with the National Federation of the Blind.

In order to demonstrate the accessibility of the Amazon Locker, our friends at Amazon sent me a package. I was sent an email with the location of the Amazon Locker and a six digit pickup code from our Amazon representative. I imagine that when a package is sent through normal channels, a similar email with location and code is sent to the recipient. Although the email gave me instructions on what to do, I approached the locker as though I knew nothing about how to get my package and let the tactile and audio instructions guide my experience. I retrieved the package from an Amazon Locker kiosk located in the entrance of a local 7-11 convenience store.

The Amazon Locker is a kiosk, which looks much like an ATM. It has a screen, Braille on a tactile keypad, and a standard jack that allows the user to insert headphones and listen to audio instructions. The keypad and screen are positioned flat against a wall and various size lockers are positioned on both sides, above and below the kiosk. Although the ergonomics of the layout would have been enhanced by placing the keypad at an angle that allows easier access to the Braille and buttons for people of various heights, the Braille on the kiosk, and the standard symbols for headphones, made it easy to orient myself and begin the process.

I activated the speech by inserting the headphones. The initial speech was very low and difficult to hear especially since the location was in a busy entrance area. After listening to the comprehensive instructions, I was given instructions on how to increase the speech volume. It would have been very helpful to have these instructions at the beginning of the transaction. By pressing the key to the right of the “#” key, I was able to increase the volume a little with each press of the key. However, after I pressed the key a few times, the volume cycled back to the original setting. I shared this feedback with Amazon, as well as the suggestion that Locker emit a tone to know you are at the highest setting, and I’m happy to report they already incorporated my suggested changes on initial volume. I am hopeful that they will also implement my suggestion to move the audio instructions about the speech volume to the beginning of the process. This is a simple example of how, with only a 10 minute exposure to the technology, we were able to add value to the interface.  

By following the audio instructions, I was able to input the six digit code. I was able to later confirm that once an individual is familiar with the system, it is possible to skip past instructions and get right to entering the six digit code to retrieve the item. After the code had been confirmed, I received audio instructions that the locker containing my package was to my right and approximately 59 inches above the floor. Then I was instructed to remove my headphones and stand back. After removing the headphones, the locker opened with a “click,” and I confirmed that a locker to my upper right had automatically opened. I located the locker, removed the package and closed the locker. Amazon Locker does offer the customer an option to select a locker that is closer to the floor if needed.

We are pleased that our partnership has helped result in the installation of Amazon talking Lockers in thousands of locations across the country. We are equally pleased that our partnership will ensure built-in accessibility to Hub by Amazon, a secure, self-service kiosk for apartment residents that will use the same accessible kiosk technology. We look forward to the development of more innovative accessible technologies from Amazon.

Oh, you want to know what was in the package. Visit me at the National Convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Orlando in July, and if you are registered and in the room you might get to take it home.