Entrepreneurial

Blind entrepreneurs boost eBay sales

August 25, 2011

EBay is recruiting an unlikely group of new entrepreneurs into its selling ranks – the visually impaired.

Blind citizens have staggeringly high rates of unemployment, with some 70 percent of working-age, legally blind adults out of work, according to the National Federation of the Blind.

So the online marketplace, in partnership with NFB, began recruiting test sellers in the blind community late last year. In February, it began a pilot program with 15 blind entrepreneurs. In total, they have sold more than 2,100 items, including everything from packing tape to clothing and makeup.

“We have a commitment to making our pages accessible,” said Jonas Klink, senior product manager of accessibility for San Jose, California-based eBay. The company was also the title sponsor at NFB’s national convention in July.

“These 15 pilot program participants have been selling above and beyond even the majority of our sighted community,” said Klink, adding that word has spread through the blind community. “A number have become top-rated sellers.”

The blind sellers use enhanced tools such as screen access software that verbalizes content on the Internet, which has primarily been designed for sighted participants.

“When you look at the Web as a whole, you’re looking at a very visual medium,” Klink said. “Designing for the visually impaired is in some cases harder because you don’t have the luxury of well-known graphics.”

At the NFB convention, some 300 people signed up for the next phase of eBay’s commitment to work with visually impaired sellers, he said.

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