Web accessibility is a vital issue in ecommerce, but despite this importance, it's still largely overlooked and misunderstood. The fact is, providing equal access to the digital world and its many resources and opportunities requires more than improving the global internet penetration rate.
Where web accessibility is concerned, website owners must also take steps to ensure their content can be used by those with disabilities.
In this post, let's review web accessibility, breaking down what it is, why it matters, and how it's changing ecommerce.
What Is Web Accessibility?
Web accessibility is the initiative that ensures web content is coded and designed in a way that allows individuals with disabilities to use them. This applies to a wide range of disabilities, including sight, movement and cognitive ability.
To help website owners make their content more accessible, the Web Accessibility Initiative has created Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Currently at version 2.1, these guidelines focus on a wide range of principles which ensure all people can use a website.
Web Accessibility Guidelines
These guidelines fall under four key categories. Content must first be perceivable — all website elements must be presented in a manner that makes sense to users with disabilities. Examples of this include writing alt text for images, providing transcripts for video and audio content, and ensuring adequate contrast between text and graphics.
Websites must also account for different operating capabilities. This includes making it fully functional for keyboard-only users who can't use a mouse, as well as for those who may require a pointer or alternative input device.
Operable websites should also provide adequate time for reading content and completing activities. Sites should always be mindful of content that could trigger a seizure or other harmful reaction.
Next, web content should be understandable. This means adapting content so everyone can understand it and ensuring that navigational tools are predictable and provide input assistance to help users correct mistakes. In reality, many of these elements are basic components of a quality user experience, something that also benefits those without disabilities.
Finally, WCAG standards call for a website to be "robust," meaning that steps have been taken to ensure compatibility with various assistive technologies. Web accessibility is ultimately a forward-thinking approach toward web development that's mindful of the changing needs of internet users.
Now that we're familiar with web accessibility, let's review why it's important.
Why Is Web Accessibility Important?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 56.7 million Americans have a disability. Over half of these individuals report experiencing a "severe" disability. Among this group, two million were blind, 19.9 million reported having trouble "lifting and grasping," and 12 million required assistance with "instrumental activities of daily living."
While not all disabilities impact one's ability to use the internet, there's no denying that many of these conditions can keep someone from enjoying full access to a site that doesn't meet WCAG standards.
Web Accessibility Examples
Consider this hypothetical example from the Web Accessibility Initiative:
"Alex … has developed a repetitive strain injury that makes it painful to use a mouse and to type for extended periods of time. Though it took considerable research, time, and commitment to learn, he's able to work with less pain using the following modifications to his work environment:
- Use of an ergonomic keyboard.
- Use of keyboard commands without a mouse.
- Voice recognition software on his computer and mobile phone.
- Assistive touch on his mobile phone."
In this example, Alex would have trouble working with certain web forms, or be forced to spend extra time navigating a site because of content that can't be skipped with his usage limitations.
If he were to use an e-commerce site that didn't meet accessibility standards, he might not be able to complete a purchase because he would be timed out of the checkout process before he could finalize his order.
This is only one way that accessibility issues can present barriers in the e-commerce world. Individuals with vision impairments who rely on screen readers often encounter problems when websites lack proper navigation cues. What may not present an issue to an able-bodied user could keep someone with a disability from buying from your site.
This was made abundantly clear by the Click-Away Pound Survey, a 2016 study looking at the barriers facing disabled customers in e-commerce. According to the survey, 71% of customers will abandon a site that has accessibility issues. 80% of those surveyed said they prioritize sites "where the fewest barriers are placed in their way," rather than those with the lowest prices.
The study also noted that these "click away" customers represented approximately 10% of total online spending in the United Kingdom, resulting in significant losses for businesses that failed to address the needs of disabled consumers. We can see those losses outlined in the graphic below.
Source: Click Away Pound
Worse still, the majority of those who abandon a website will not reach out to the website for support, meaning you could be losing business without even knowing it. Where web accessibility is concerned, e-commerce brands have a responsibility to ensure everyone can easily buy their products. This doesn't just improve web access — it can also help your bottom line.
Now that we've established the significance of web accessibility, let's review how this initiative is changing ecommerce.
How Accessibility Issues Are Changing E-Commerce
Web accessibility has recently been in the news because some websites have failed to address those with disabilities.
As Gal Vizel, CMO of web accessibility platform accessiBe explained, "The lawsuits related to ADA web accessibility has increased by 183% in just one year, from 814 cases in 2017 to 2285 in 2018. Domino's Pizza learned this the hard way when it lost in court to a blind plaintiff who had difficulty ordering pizza because the website wasn't compatible with standard screen reading software. The disabled community has spoken — and we are listening."
Many of these lawsuits highlight how even minor accessibility issues — such as a lack of keyboard-only navigation or the failure to include image alt text — can prevent individuals with disabilities from accessing content or making a purchase.
Because of the increasing prominence of these cases, more and more e-commerce brands are coming to recognize the importance of making their websites accessible. After all, the best way to avoid litigation is to proactively ensure that you're meeting accessibility standards.
In addition to making your site compliant with WCAG standards, the National Disability Authority recommends that site owners include an Accessibility Statement on their website.
This statement should highlight your commitment to and conformance with accessibility guidelines, including the date of your most recent accessibility audit and timelines for any areas that need to be corrected.
Here's an example of an accessibility statement from the popular website, The Motley Fool:
Source: The Motley Fool
Adherence to WCAG standards and the inclusion of an accessibility statement will not only protect you from potential lawsuits; these actions will also help you gain goodwill with potential customers.
If you're looking to create an accessibility statement for your website, check out the template we've included below.
Accessibility Statement Template
Here's a template you can use when adding an accessibility statement to your site.
[Company name] is committed to ensuring that this website is accessible to all users based on the guidelines listed in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Our goal is to make sure that all of our content, regardless of channel or medium, is available for every person who wishes to access it. If you have any questions or comments regarding our site, please feel welcome to reach out to [Resource name and phone number] for further assistance.
At the end of the day, web accessibility shouldn't merely be about trying to avoid potential lawsuits or getting more money from your target audience. It's about making sure everyone who wants to use the internet can access content and make purchases without being hindered by their disabilities.
When you make your website accessible to all, you will be doing your part to make the internet a resource that can truly benefit everyone.
For more ways to improve your site, read about conducting user testing.