Web accessibility may not be the first thing that comes to mind when trying to convert your website visitors or generate more sales through your mobile traffic, but it is a crucial element to consider in today’s ecommerce landscape.
Web accessibility refers to the idea that websites and other digital content should be designed in a way that allows those with disabilities to use them without facing significant obstacles.
Unfortunately, much of the internet isn’t currently set up in a way that’s very accessible. This can make many websites almost hard to use for those who require assistance when using a computer or smartphone.
This has implications that extend far beyond just the individual. In the long run, it could create serious problems for the health of your entire business.
How Those With Disabilities Navigate the internet
Individuals with disabilities rely on a wide range of tools to help them navigate the internet.
For example, those who are blind may use a screen reader to narrate on-screen text or describe the visual details in a photo. Individuals who are deaf may rely on captioning and video transcripts to fully enjoy podcasts, videos, and other audio-based content.
Those with mobility impairments may use an alternative keyboard and mouse setup, such as a trackball, keyboard-only navigation, or even voice recognition and eye-tracking software.
While some of these assistive tools require the use of special equipment, others are dependent upon having digital content that’s been developed with these needs in mind. That’s why it’s imperative to build websites with the proper layouts and structures—to avoid difficulty for those who rely on tools like screen readers in particular.
In an interview with Gizmodo, Paul Schroeder, VP of Programs and Policy for the American Foundation for the Blind explained, “Screen reading software presents the webpage as a set of lines and links, and possibly other things—frames and headers if the software employs that. When you log onto a website using screen reading software, what you start with is a site that tells you how many lines, and some basic structure—but not very much.”
Schroeder continues, “When you’re experiencing a cluttered site, the information you want may be 300-400 lines in, and if you’re going line by line, or section by section, it can take you a very long time to find what you want.”
This is just one example of how poor planning and a tight budget can lead to decisions like not investing in thoughtful web design or choosing only cheap hosting plans. These can lead to dramatically slower load times on your website—and make readers wait longer for content to load (or leave rather than wait).
Web Accessibility In Court
As per the Americans with Disabilities Act National Network, the Americans with Disabilities Act “prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.”
With the internet becoming integral to our daily lives—including how we purchase products and services—the legal system is starting to view this as an issue that directly applies to websites.
As Dekel Skoop, COO at AI-powered web accessibility platform accessiBe, explains, “Over the past several years, a steady stream of legal rulings requiring website compliance has proven time and again that ADA applies to online venues. The over 2,000 ADA lawsuits filed in 2018, as well as tens of thousands of demand letters, show that plaintiffs are capitalizing on this legal prerogative.”
The recent Domino’s Pizza case has garnered the most notoriety, as the pizza maker chose to fight initial rulings that it needed to make its website and app more accessible. The case went all the way up to the Supreme Court.
With the Supreme Court refusing to hear Domino’s case, many businesses fear that they too could be subjected to litigation for failing to provide an accessible website. This is especially true of ecommerce brands, as retail sites have typically been the most frequently targeted in these lawsuits.
Of course, in this case, the solution should be obvious—rather than cut off some of your potential customers, you can avoid a lawsuit and possibly even increase your existing sales figures when you address the needs of your entire community.
How to Address Common Accessibility Issues In Ecommerce
Making your website accessible is essential for ensuring that everyone can use your site and complete a purchase. However, many basic features that ecommerce sites implement can sometimes present new barriers to disabled users.
Consider this account for Slate by Richard Supple, a blind man who describes his experience shopping online. He explains, “When it comes to shopping or completing an online form, I’m often forced to abandon ship for one reason or another.”
Based on Supple’s experience, he offers a few key takeaways for website owners to consider when designing their checkout process:
- Make sure all of the fields in your online forms are clearly visible and properly labeled
- Allow plenty of time for users to complete a form before ending a session
- Use CAPTCHA tools that are compatible with screen readers
- Give your customers options to get quick assistance during checkout
The challenges users with disabilities face were well-documented in 2016’s Click-Away Pound survey, which examined ecommerce experiences for individuals with disabilities in the United Kingdom.
According to the survey’s findings, 71% of individuals with disabilities will abandon a website that is too difficult to use—and the vast majority of this group weren’t going to submit a complaint with the store to let them know about the issue.
Additionally, 80% of those surveyed stated that when shopping online, they prioritized sites with the “fewest barriers” to complete a transaction, over those with simply the lowest prices.
In other words, making your website accessible is a massive opportunity that can help you grow your business. In the Click-Away Pound survey, it was estimated that individuals with disabilities represent a full 10% of the country’s online spending.
In the United States, this group also represents a significant number. The National Federation of the Blind reports that over 7.6 million Americans above the age of 16 have a visual disability.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reports that over 61 million adults (26% of the adult population) have at least one disability, including those related to mobility and cognition.
Therefore, it stands to reason that if your website isn’t designed to be widely accessible, it can result in revenue loss that you’ll likely never become aware of. On the other hand though, if you do invest in updating your website with accessibility best practices, there’s a lot of potential upside in terms of both building stronger relationships with customers—and increasing revenue.
Changing Your Website for the Better
Moving forward, it’s clear that ecommerce brands have the responsibility to make their website fully accessible to all internet users. Not only will this help you avoid the negative PR of an accessibility-related lawsuit, but it could even help you gain new customers—thus increasing your profitability in unexpected ways.
Of course, making your ecommerce site accessible may seem overwhelming at first. You can get pretty quick results by making changes to your site’s HTML code based on the guidelines presented by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).
Many of these guidelines incorporate best practices for improving usability for all users, as well as contributing to potentially positive increases in your SEO rankings. For example, while adding alt text to an image will improve screen reader compatibility, it will also provide a boost to your search engine rankings when it contains relevant keyword phrases.
Though improving your website accessibility can be a time-consuming process, it’s well worth it in the long run. Just like when brick and mortar stores comply with ADA regulations, all ecommerce stores should be held to the same standard.
Ryan Robinson is a blogger, podcaster and side project aficionado that teaches 500,000 monthly readers how to start a blog and grow a profitable side business at ryrob.com.