Getting Started: Creating an Inclusive Experience With Website Accessibility
May 15, 2019
This is the fifth blog in our Getting Started series, designed to provide helpful information to guide the digital journeys you are creating for customers.
Creating an accessible website means removing barriers that prevent access by people with disabilities. When designed correctly, your website will give all users equal access to information and functionality. Accessibility is essential for brands that want to create high-quality websites that do not exclude people from using their products and services.
But how do you create and maintain accessible standards as your site grows more complex and applications expand? Part Five in the Getting Started series offers insight into accessibility and answers key questions to ensure that everyone can interact with your site.
It’s Not Optional
In the US, the American Disabilities Act (ADA) was created by the Department of Justice to benefit individuals with a range of disabilities who use facilities in a public space. This meant, for example, that a brick-and-mortar business needed a curb with a wheelchair-accessible ramp. To ignore this meant huge fines and lost customers. Today, it’s rare to find a business that doesn’t follow the law.
In the past, websites were unregulated. There was no document detailing why a website needed to be accessible, much less how to achieve it. In 2010 the law changed, and the ADA was expanded to include websites as “a place of public accommodation.” Although the law is still somewhat nebulous regarding the accessibility standards a website must meet to satisfy the ADA, ignoring accessibility practices for your eCommerce business puts you at high risk.
What Will Happen if My Site is Inaccessible?
If you’re lucky, nothing will happen. This is certainly not the case for everybody. The Bureau of Internet Accessibility reports that in 2017 814 cases were filed against businesses by individuals with various disabilities. The number increased in 2018. Amazon and Nike were two large companies involved in lawsuits filed by legally blind individuals who could not access their content through a screen reader—software blind people can use to navigate the web.
The disabled population is growing rapidly. Around the world, four people with disabilities are born every second. As your business becomes more successful, you will need to serve this booming population. It’s very probable that some of these visitors will have some type of disability. An inaccessible website sharply increases your risk of lost customers and even litigation.
Not a One-Off
Most ready-built modern eCommerce themes come with a healthy dose of accessibility baked into the theme. Shopify, for example, takes accessibility very seriously and vets each new theme submitted for publication in their theme store.
Though these themes may be advertised as meeting Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) at the time of purchase, a false positive may develop in the near future. After purchasing the theme, your developer(s) will likely add new features and third-party code. In the course of these changes, your theme may no longer meet accessibility guidelines. We’ll discuss how you can check later in this blog.
How to Protect Yourself
Your expertise may not lie in accessibility coding. In fact, It’s a highly specialized skill, which is why we have consulting services that assist with accessibility and compliance. Assuming you are hiring a developer to build your website, you can begin protecting yourself by first asking the right questions before the project begins. Here are a few things you need to know to get you started:
How do you scan your work to know it is accessible?
Good answer: We run automation tasks to scan our work. We also do manual testing to see that the website is fully usable from a keyboard.
Bad answer: We write great code, and no one has ever complained about it.
What level of compliance does your work meet?
Good answer: Our work is Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) AA compliant.
Bad answer: It’s highly compliant. The most, in fact.
Can you show me an example of accessible work you’ve done?
Good result: You scan the website they’ve provided, and the accessibility scan passes.
Bad result: Well, you can probably guess…
Running a Scan Yourself
You might be thinking; How can I scan the website the developer listed to see if it is actually accessible? One easy way is to run an audit using a tool inside of Google Chrome. Now, it will not satisfy the manual steps necessary to pass a full audit, but will get you a good part of the way. To run the scan:
- Open Chrome
- From the top menu: View -> Developer -> Developer Tools
- A panel should open
- From the top of the panel, click ‘Audits’
- Uncheck all boxes except ‘Accessibility’ and click ‘Run audits’
You’ll then see a score from 0 to 100 (hopefully this one).
If the score is not perfect, that’s okay (most sites do not tally perfect scores). It will be clear, though, whether or not the developer you are considering is aware of accessible coding practices. If the links they’ve provided are riddled with low scores, it could be time to look for a different developer.
Complex, Interactive Web Experiences
If your website design is not too daring (home page, product page, contact, about us, etc.) a basic accessibility scan will get you close to the proverbial finish line. However, if you are offering a more highly interactive experience, a scan will not get you all the way there.
Imagine you present the user a quiz with drag and drop functionality built into the experience. Can everyone partake in this experience? Some people have muscular issues and cannot use a mouse. Can the quiz be completed without the user of a mouse? What if a visitor cannot see the quiz at all and accesses your website by screen reader? Does the quiz still make sense the way it’s been coded?
For these more complex experiences, your development team must spend extra care to achieve accessibility. This is why it is important to hire the right developer(s) for the job at the outset of the project.
Keeping Things Accessible
We’ve already established that accessibility is not a one-off. During development, request that your developer scans his/her work weekly or bi-weekly. Have them generate a quick report and email it to you. This will keep your development team on their toes and encourage the continued existence of a high-quality project. A small amount of vigilance goes a long way to preventing larger problems.
The Benefit of Doing Things Correctly
Obviously, staying out of court is a good thing, but the benefits of maintaining an accessible theme go beyond that. People from all walks of life go online to accomplish tasks, visit forums, access help desks, talk to friends, and, of course, shop. The more people who can reliably consume, comprehend and add your company’s items to a cart and checkout, the greater your revenue. The job of web developers and business owners is to keep standards high and guarantee that digital doors stay open to all.