Accessibility in E-Commerce

Accessibility in E-Commerce

The internet has proliferated in ways unimaginable just two decades ago. The ease and availability of the world wide web has driven many online retailers to make changes to improve the navigation and usability of their sites, but there’s still a major component to the internet which is only now being addressed by many organizations and businesses – accessibility. 

There are millions of Americans and global citizens who have a disability in some form or another, and site administrators and designers are finally getting around to keeping these people in mind when making site improvements or redesigning sites form the ground up. If you’re a small business owner, there are many reasons to keep accessibility in mind for your website.

The Need for Accessibility in E-Commerce

Firstly, the Covid-19 pandemic has made online accessibility a priority for many e-commerce sites because the numbers of people shopping online has increased significantly since the virus’ arrival in early March. Approximately one in four adults worldwide have a disability, and these men and women are flocking to the internet as a way to survive the pandemic while protecting their families. This is also a group which is being generally ignored by many major chains and internet giants. 

Another great reason to make your website more accessible is to avoid the lawsuits filed as grievances against websites which aren’t currently accessible. The number of these lawsuits is steadily increasing every year. While these types of lawsuits weren’t a problem at the turn of the country, there were 2,314 such lawsuits filed in 2018 and 2,235 filed in 2019, a dramatic rise from the early and mid-2010s. Protective measures aren’t the only reason to conform to accessibility standards and demands, however.

Businesses whose websites have recently made accessible can more easily market and garner goodwill toward the general population. Empathetic brands stand out in a crowded business landscape, and a great way to show consumers you value their time and impediments is to increase the accessibility of your website.

Authenticity and sensitivity are great traits for your company to boast about in the current climate and providing broader and more careful access on your site is a great way to back up your words with concrete action. On top of attracting customers who are disabled, perfectly capable people will see the improvements you’ve made to your site and associate your company and brand with empathy and compassion, an association which will go a long way to boost sales.

Finally, the number one reason to make your website more accessible is because it will raise the potential and capability of your SEO practices. As discussed, disabled people make up one of the largest but ignored and overlooked markets today for companies who are primarily digital. 

When you upgrade your website, you’re making a direct appeal to these people to search for and find your website more easily. Disabled people are constantly on the lookout for websites which suit their needs and are easily navigated, and your efforts will attract them in droves. 

In addition, many best practices for accessibility and SEO overlap, such as an easy-to-navigate website, alt text for images, transcripts for video material, and web copy that’s concise, easy to read, and well formatted. The need for accessible websites is finally being brought to light, and there’s never been a better time to make your website available to those with disabilities.

History of Accessibility in E-Commerce

The push to make the internet more accessible has been fought for a while, starting all the way back in 1989 with the induction of screen readers. There have been a few strides made in this area since then but there’s still a long way to go to make it the norm. 

For example, the first accessibility guidelines were created in 1995 and the WCAG, or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, appeared in 1998. The Unites States government made official regulations pertaining to website accessibility in 2000 and Canadian laws of the same nature were enacted in Ontario in 2005. 

A second version of the WCAG guidelines was formulated in 2008. Soon after, the U.S. Department of Justice debated the idea of making websites “places of public accommodation” according to the American Disabilities Act, although this decision has yet to be parsed out, even after ten years of debate. While this is a decent amount of progress, there’s still a long way to go.

Recent E-Commerce Accessibility Trends

As previously stated, the internet as a whole has been paying closer attention to those with disabilities, which has led to positive trends in the last few years. Screen readers have become commonplace for those with visual impairments, though there are still many bugs to work out on some sites due to browser compatibility.

Colorblind users have also been taken into consideration, as WCAG requirements ensure websites have a contrast ratio of 4.5:1. This ratio helps the colorblind parse out information and navigate sites easier. In addition, text describing the texture, shape, and images a part of websites is commonly given to all visitors. 

Transcripts and subtitles have been available on video players for a few years and are available on many sites to help the deaf and WCAG also requires all features and functionalities on e-commerce websites be available for keyboard-only use to help those with motor disabilities. 

Finally, WCAG has done its best to ensure those with cognitive disabilities can easily navigate websites. It obligates sites to have “predictable behavior and content,” meaning parts of a site must be in the same location relative to other components of a given webpage. All of these guidelines have been used to create a formal and straightforward product hierarchy which is easier for people with disabilities to navigate.

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