If you’re looking to build an ecommerce website for use in the United States, then accessibility is a major consideration you’re certainly going to want to pay attention to. It’s vital that regardless of the role held on a web commerce team—whether you’re a marketing manager, project manager, designer, or developer—you must be aligned in understanding how important accessibility is before you launch or perform updates to your company’s commerce website. Accessibility isn’t the responsibility of one role or department; it’s deeper than this and involves a mindset in which all members of a team are aware of the user experience and work towards being as inclusive as possible.
There are many results that follow from not making your site available to a large segment of the population, ranging from customers viewing your brand negatively, missing out on the opportunity to sell to a diverse group, all the way through to legal implications with financial consequences. It’s essential that you become well versed in this topic, and this article will help provide you with some of the key elements you need to know to get started.
Accessibility means ensuring that ALL users can access websites, apps, technologies, or tools without any barriers, and that they can easily use them regardless of any disabilities they may have, such as impairments due to sight, hearing, mobility, and/or cognitive ability.
Accessibility is about removing any barriers that may exclude anyone from appreciating the Web and ensuring they have equal access and equal opportunity. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognizes universal access to information and communications technologies, including the Web, as a fundamental human right.
There’s a strong business case to be made for ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to purchase products and services from your online store. Twenty percent of the population in the US live with a disability, representing 56 million potential customers with a combined income of $175 billion dollars. In 2018, 200 million Americans will shop online. Ten million of that number will have a visual impairment, 10 million will have a hearing impairment, and over 4 million will have limits to their mobility. The numbers prove that having a website available to all is no longer a nice to have, but an absolute must.
By creating or optimizing your site to make it more accessible, you are also leveraging a positive brand image that endears customers to you, rather than frustrating them. There are also many technical and financial factors that make for a strong case to consider making your website more accessible. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has developed that provides a deep dive into making the business case for Web accessibility for your site and touches upon many reasons why you should pursue a path towards making your site available to all. If not, customers will take their business elsewhere to a company that demonstrates it is more aware of their needs.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in 1990, well before using the Web caught on, so it was designed more around making sure that public facilities, such as office buildings, schools, restaurants, and other similar gathering spaces, met accessibility requirements so that all people could use those spaces. In time, the Department of Justice recognized the need to consider accessibility on the Web, and in 2003, they set out a Voluntary Action Plan for government agencies and private entities. In 2007, they created a concise list of recommendations, and then in 2010, launched a Notice of Advanced Rulemaking where they indicated their interest in revising Title III of the ADA to ensure people with disabilities had access to goods and services on the internet. The date given for the release of formal guidelines was 2018 for private businesses and entities to provide accessibility online.
Accessibility standards today are rooted in the work done in the technology community, culminating in 2008 with the creation of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These guidelines were updated in 2012 and rephrased to become WCAG 2.0 and were then adopted as an ISO standard. Currently, the US federal government, as well as most web designers and developers throughout the world have adopted WCAG 2.0 AA as the set of standards they use to determine if a site can be considered accessible for all.At the point of writing this article, it’s not yet known what the US has planned with regards to acting upon the proposed changes to the ADA to ensure that all websites are accessible for all in the United States. Regardless of whether or not the current administration goes forward with this change in policy, it’s wise to err on the side of doing good for the sake of doing good, and making your website available to all citizens without any barriers.
One in five, or 22% of all adults, who live in the United States has some form of a disability. Over the years, attention to equal rights and a push against discrimination has moved to the forefront of societal change. This belief has become entrenched in the legal system with civil rights laws initially being created to ensure that nobody is neglected, and that everyone has equal rights, such as access to equal pay, services, events and activities among other such opportunities.
An accessible website helps people who visit you online to obtain the information they are seeking— without any barriers. Having the ability to access the same materials as all citizens provides people with disabilities a feeling of inclusion. They can purchase goods and services without any limitations.
It’s important to note that Web accessibility is also useful for individuals without a disability. This video effectively makes the case for how "web accessibility is essential for some and useful for all."
If you have not yet launched your website, then now is the perfect time to consult with experts to ensure you are on the right track. First, meet with an experienced supplier who has a solid background in developing accessible websites, such as our team here at OSF Digital. You will also want to speak with specialists in accessibility certification, such as an external auditing or certification company. They will provide valuable insight during the conception stage when designers are creating wireframes and mock-ups as they are able to identify where certain features may need to be made more accessible. This activity is best performed before developers begin coding to ensure you have a well-designed online presence available, and of use, to all.
Maybe you already have a website and are looking to either become more compliant or are curious to discover if you are indeed providing an accessible experience. In this case, consider having an external company perform an audit to identify any weak spots. Have your developers make the recommended modifications to make sure that you are well positioned against any potential legal repercussions from a lack of compliance with accessibility standards.
Not offering an accessible website opens your business up to complaints, class actions, and lawsuits. Recently, as many as 1000 lawsuits have been filed in 2018, including cases levied against major companies such as eBay, Nike, Netflix, and Amazon citing their noncompliance in providing an accessible web experience.
Any US citizen can launch a lawsuit related to a website they feel isn’t respecting the Americans With Disabilities Act. Many of these cases relate specifically to the shortcomings of ecommerce websites as they are viewed as part of the Services category of the ADA. When a complaint is received, the owner of the site is notified and provided with a deadline to have the requested changes and improvements implemented.
Despite the lack of regulatory guidance and the wait for clarity on the proposed changes to the ADA that specifically reference online sites, enforcement activity is still being pursued against companies that are non-compliant.
Whether or not the government enacts changes to legislation that makes it mandatory for companies to offer accessible Web experiences, it’s clear that it’s in your best interest to pursue compliance as a safeguard against turning away any potential customers. Beyond this, it’s just the right thing to do. Being a positive digital citizen means providing equal access to all.