Ever come across a website that’s difficult to navigate or hard to read? Imagine having that experience on every site you visit online. Unfortunately, that’s what happens for most people with disabilities, since a lot of companies don’t design with web accessibility in mind.
For online, direct-to-consumer (D2C) sellers, web accessibility is critical to ensuring a pleasant experience for your customers, regardless of their abilities. Similar to brick-and-mortar stores, web accessibility refers to improvements and features placed on a website to make it easier for people with disabilities to navigate and use a website.
Currently, most legislation regarding technological accessibility, including Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, only applies to federal, state, and local government agencies, not private companies. But recently, web accessibility has become increasingly important for private companies and online sellers due to a growing number of accessibility-related lawsuits.
Household-name Lawsuits Illustrate the Importance of Accessibility
The year was 2012, and the case involved Netflix, the popular video streaming service. In the case, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) argued that Netflix’s lack of closed captioning as making a “public accommodation” was inaccessible to deaf people.
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), developed in 1990, doesn’t mention online services, simply because most businesses had physical locations. Ultimately, the judge in the Netflix case decided that the widespread adoption of the internet requires a new definition of “public accommodations.” Netflix was ordered to caption all of its streamed video content and pay damages amounting to $755,000.
In 2016, a blind man filed a lawsuit against Domino’s, the popular pizza chain company, because he couldn’t see or use their website, despite having a screen reader. In early 2019, the case was concluded when the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Domino’s to make its website accessible for people with disabilities.
And there are more — in fact, approximately 2,258 lawsuits were filed in 2018 by people with disabilities on allegations that company websites violated the ADA. Needless to say, understanding how to make your website accessible to those with disabilities will help you avoid an expensive lawsuit, as well as make your website more appealing to customers of all levels of abilities.
Incorporating the WCAG Principles of Web Accessibility
Building an ADA-compliant, user-friendly website isn’t a mystery — Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) help greatly. To be considered appropriately accessible to those with disabilities, your website content must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
Making your website “perceivable” means making content available to people in different ways, so they’re able to consume content in a way that’s suitable for them. For example, photos and other image-based content should be formatted with alternative text (also known as “alt text”) descriptions. Providing alt text for your website’s non-text content helps screen readers interpret and communicate your content to visually impaired users. You can use tools such as NVAccess to simulate browsing your website with a screen reader to create descriptive alt text for blind customers.
For pre-recorded or streamed videos, provide a script or caption for hearing impaired users on your website. There are many tools available that will automatically create captions or transcriptions of your video or audio content. Or, you can hire a skilled freelancer or virtual assistant from a platform such as Upwork to make sure your content has the highest level of accuracy possible.
A good e-commerce website will also be operable, meaning that it’s easy for people to navigate your site. For example, individuals who lack the ability required to use their mouse will often use keyboard shortcuts instead, so make sure users can maneuver throughout your website using only their keyboard.
You also want to give people time to view and comprehend your website’s content. This means they must be able to pause, stop, or hide animations and other moving content. You can use Funkify or a similar tool to simulate the experience of someone with a disability, such as dyslexia or colorblindness.
Make sure users can understand your website content. This primarily deals with readability and clarity in your text content. For example, it’s a good idea to explain any jargon or abbreviations to make sure your intended meaning is crystal clear. It’s also critical to make your website’s structure and content predictable and consistent, since this helps people understand your site’s overall setup.
To make sure your website’s content is understandable and readable, you can use popular plugins such as Yoast. Yoast analyzes and scores your website’s content based on Flesch reading metrics. Using tools like this will help you make sure that your content is understandable and readable for those with mental impairments.
Here are some practical ways you can make your content understandable:
- Only use h1 headings for the title of your website and individual pages.
- Use sub-heads (h2, h3) to organize your content.
- Avoid skipping heading levels.
Robustness is the most technical principle of the four. To be considered robust, your website should be up to date on all modern website design trends and integrated with newer screen readers.
Consider Your Audience
Though it’s not (yet) legally required for private online stores, you’ll want to improve your online presence to make it inclusive of those with disabilities. Accessibility improvements will make your brand and website more appealing, not only for your customers and prospects, but also to differentiate your business from your competitors. It’ll also keep you reasonably safe from an accessibility-related lawsuit.
Bottom line: You never know where your next customer will come from, no matter what kind of business you’re in. While your product or service isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution, your website should be a one-size-for-all marketing tool.