The Importance of Web Accessibility for Ecommerce
The leading web standards body, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) recently announced new content accessibility guidelines (WCAG 2.0) to help make the Internet easier for blind, deaf or otherwise disabled web-surfers to access and use. Such visitors require aids such as screen readers to follow content.
Not only is adhering to web accessibility standards ethically and morally the right thing to do, there are 2 other pragmatic reasons to abide by WCAG 2.0:
Two Pragmatic Reasons to Design for Accessibility
1. Get More (Loyal) Customers.
According to the American Foundation for the Blind, there are at least 1.5 million Americans with some vision loss who use the Internet. Ecommerce merchants that make their websites easy to access, use, and shop will find a significant and loyal customer base. Add to this group the deaf/hard-of-hearing community and having an accessible online store can add up to a lot of business.
2. Avoid Legal Challenges
In September, multi-channel retailer Target was ordered to pay $6 million to settle a legal challenge from the National Federation of the Blind. The suit marked a few scary new trends in Internet law—websites as public places and the application of disabilities acts to the Internet. None of this would have been necessary if Target had proactively coded their site for accessibility.
Three Quick Accessibility Tips
1. Add a "Content" link at the top of the page.
When a screen reader translates your page for a visually impaired visitor, it is helpful if the first thing it sees is navigation, not an ALT attribute (a piece of HTML code that describes your image using keywords) for your logo. On the sites I design, I include a brief bit of navigation that points a disabled visitor to the site's content or important category pages. I don't necessary want that navigation to interrupt the page design, so I use CSS to position it off screen. Sighted visitors never see it, but it's the first thing screen readers find.
2. Remove time limits.
It can be a lot harder for a disable visitor to complete a task like filling out a form. Too many websites have applications that "time out" and make it really hard for disabled users. Removing time limits on shopping carts, for example, is a big help.
3. Offer extended audio descriptions with video content.
If you are using video on your site, be sure to include an alternate version of the video with audio descriptions. There are several ways to achieve the effect technically and it will include deaf and hard-of-hearing visitors.