The Business and Legal Reasons to Make Your Shopify Store Accessible to All
Have you ever tried navigating your e-commerce site without using a mouse or trackpad? Did you know that it’s possible to navigate from one section to another using the Tab/Shift+Tab and arrow keys and ENTER to click on something? More than a billion people (15 percent of the world’s population) have some form of disability; many of which require them to navigate websites differently.
Consider how someone who is blind or visually impaired checks their email. Or how someone who can’t hear deciphers any of the tens of millions of videos on YouTube. Or how a colorblind person interprets the design of a traditional webpage. The many different forms of disability (physical, cognitive, visual, hearing) affect a person’s experience of your website in different ways.
What E-Commerce Shop Owners Need to Know About Accessibility
It may never have occurred to you how someone who is blind might be able to shop your store. But once you consider the challenges that people with disabilities face in navigating websites, there’s a broad spectrum of accessibility issues that you will want to know about and understand.
To help drive home the impact of accessible design, check out this incredible video of Kyle Woodruff navigating the web without his sight, quadriplegic web user Gordon Richins navigating the web without his hands, and Curtis Radford navigating the web without his hearing.
Disabilities that can affect people’s ability to use your website include:
Blindness and Low Vision: Blind people often use either a screen reader technology that reads web content using synthesized speech or a refreshable Braille device. Individuals with low vision may use screen magnification software to zoom into all or a portion of the screen, while others may enlarge the font using standard browser functions.
Watch this video to see how Victor Tsaran accesses the web using a built-in screen reader on OS X, called VoiceOver.
Deafness and Hearing Loss: People who are deaf or hard-of-hearing cannot access experience audio content, so video needs to be captioned (used closed captioning) and audio needs be transcribed.
Learning Disabilities: People with learning disabilities such as dyslexia may use audible output along with software that highlights words or phrases as they’re read aloud using synthesized speech.
Physical Disability / Limited Movement: People with physical disabilities that affect the use of their hands (including those with motor impairments, such as Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI) or paralysis) may be unable to use a mouse, requiring them to rely exclusively on a keyboard or assistive technologies such as speech recognition, head pointers, mouth sticks, or eye-gaze tracking systems. A good keyboarding experience relies on a logical tab order and easily discernible focus styles.
- Seizure Disorders and Photosensitivity: Some people with photosensitive epilepsy can have a seizure triggered by displays that flicker, flash, or blink.
Colorblindness: People who are color blind (4.5 percent of the population, but if your audience is mostly male this increases to 8 percent) cannot see the difference between certain color combinations. The colors with which they have difficulty distinguishing depend upon their type of color-blindness, but red-green deficiencies are the most common. This post offers some great tools to assess how your site looks to people who are colorblind.
Cognitive Limitations: There is a wide range of cognitive disabilities that can impact website accessibility, including memory deficits such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia; problem-solving deficits; attention deficits; reading, linguistic, and verbal comprehension deficits; and math comprehension deficits. This post from WebAIM offers a great introduction to considering cognitive limitations.
International accessibility standards for the Internet were created by the World Wide Web Consortium, titled the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These guidelines specify how to make content accessible, primarily for people with disabilities. The most recent version (WCAG 2.1) was published on June 5, 2018, and serves as an update and extension of the previous recommendation (WCAG 2.0) issued in 2008.
Why Make Your Website Accessible?
Making your e-commerce site universally accessible will result in improved SEO, a better user experience, enhanced mobile experience, and according to Shopify, “bring in more traffic and regular site visitors, which in turn helps conversions and your bottom line…”
But making your website accessible isn’t just good for your bottom line and for your disabled customers or users, it can also protect your business from a potential legal action.
During the last few years, some e-commerce sites have been challenged on their legal responsibility to make their products and services available to everyone without discrimination based on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
When the ADA was enacted in 1990, it mandated that all “places of public accommodation” (all businesses open to the public) are legally required to remove any “access barriers” that would hinder a disabled person’s access to that business’s goods or services. This was widely understood to mean physical barriers like stairs that could prevent a wheelchair from accessing a business. While the language does not specifically state whether the required equal access is physical or virtual, the U.S. Department of Justice has consistently interpreted the ADA to include application to websites. On an international stage, the United Nations also has a convention on “Rights of Persons with Disability” that says a website should be accessible to all people.
These mandates have been in existence for some time, yet the scope of legal action related to them has been minimal until recently. In 2017, plaintiffs filed over 800 federal lawsuits — many of which were filed as class actions — in which they alleged businesses were violating the ADA by not providing websites that were accessible to disabled individuals and, in particular, those with visual or hearing impairments.
Read more about the features of accessible e-commerce websites and how to build an accessible website in Shopify in the next post in this two-part blog series, coming soon!
In the meantime, check out our other related content:
- What Shopify Merchants Need to Know About GDPR
- Top Shopify Store Trends for 2018 E-Commerce Success
- Creating an Intuitive UX When You Offer 100+ Products