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How to Create an Accessible E-Commerce Website

Nathan Resnick
Nathan Resnick
Sep 16, 2019

Learn how you can make your e-commerce website accessible for consumers with disabilities.

Web accessibility is more important than you might think. After all, you wouldn’t create a retail store without a wheelchair ramp and other accommodations for individuals with special needs. In fact, due to regulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), commercial facilities are required by law to provide accessible designs and accommodations for individuals with special needs.

If you want your online store to succeed in the modern world, it needs to be accessible to all consumers. Also, creating an accessible website is the right thing to do. The internet is an amazing tool, and everyone should have an equal opportunity to use it and benefit from its offerings.

There are not enforceable legal standards that dictate web accessibility … yet. However, many e-commerce stores are currently required to comply with the ADA. Any business with 15 full-time employees or running time of at least 20 weeks a year should be ADA compliant. Businesses that operate for public accommodation, such as a bank or a hotel, are also required to comply with ADA regulations, regardless of the number of employees or weekly operation numbers.

Businesses that have websites inaccessible to the deaf, blind, people who navigate by voice, or anyone who experiences any kind of speech, visual, auditory, cognitive, or physical disability can be sued, even though the regulations defining website accessibility are not yet completely defined.

If you’re wondering how websites can be altered to help people with special needs, here are a couple of examples.

  • An accessible website might have text that can be resized, respaced or recolored to accommodate viewers with vision impairment.
  • A website might provide a button that pauses animations and flashing designs, making it accessible for people with epilepsy.

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You don’t have to make all the following changes yourself. Resources, like accessiBe are available, so you can simply and affordably make your e-commerce store accessible with the power of AI.

Another option is to hire a web design agency to build an accessible website. This can be difficult, though, as not all agencies understand what website accessibility is and how an ADA-compliant website must be created and updated.

Or, if you decide to establish an accessible e-commerce store yourself, you can do it quickly and effectively if you have the right information and know-how. Here are three tips to get you started.

1. Consider the special needs of hearing- and visually-impaired individuals.

There are many types of special needs. Although it’s important to consider everyone, you need to start somewhere. Begin by making your website accessible to individuals who are hearing or visually impaired.

Also, think about users who navigate the internet through voice and design with their needs in mind. This way of thinking and redesigning might not seem quick and efficient at first, but it is certainly a lot less work than a lawsuit.

Make sure your site’s text can be accessed by a reader who’s visually impaired. Additionally, build a screen reader into your e-commerce store so the text can be read to an individual who might otherwise use Braille to read.

Other important things to include are text transcripts for visual content. Vision-impaired users need another way to understand the content they can’t see.

One simple adjustment that can make a big difference is clearly defining your website’s language. Some users utilize text readers to access the internet. If the user knows what language your website is in, he or she will be able to more easily use the text reader effectively.


2. Customer service is key.

When a user on your website seems to be struggling to navigate, it’s wise to have your site automatically offer help. No matter if the user has special needs or not, being offered an alternative when something feels difficult can greatly improve customer satisfaction.

Your customers should be able to get in touch with your business through various channels. E-commerce users want to you by email, live chat, phone calls and more.

While accommodating for people with special needs, remember that many individuals have things to teach your customer service department. Here’s an example of what I mean. In college, I worked in a call center. The business had a customer who was deaf who emailed the company, asking for someone to call her. Everyone in the call center was nervous. Naively, we wondered how a deaf woman would hear a customer service representative over the phone.

This customer used a service to take calls. When a representative from the company called the number she provided, she was connected to a hearing-impaired communication company. Our customer service representative would talk to a woman from the communication company who would then type messages to the customer.

The customer would type messages back, and the communication company would read the replies to the customer service representative. Essentially, this was a typical conversation.

The above experience was transformative for me. It reminded me how little I know about people with special needs. It also gave me insight into a totally new type of communication that I would otherwise never known about.

What I’m trying to get across is that you can’t make assumptions. Many people with special needs have found their own ways to adapt, and it will serve businesses well to meet them on their terms as well as provide services when needed.

3. The finer details of website accessibility.

I’ve referenced several accessibility design elements above that are important, but if you’re like me, you likely want more information. According to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), e-commerce stores specifically need to think about usability, appearance, presentation and user control.

Usability. Make sure every part of your website has more than one point of access. For example, if a person with ALS uses his or her eyes as a cursor, he or she may need an on-screen keyboard to fill out a form. Using a physical keyboard shouldn’t be the user’s only option for information input.

A search field should also be available so users can look up information quickly and be able to access what they need. It’s smart to include a site map that informs users where other information on the site can be found, too.

Appearance. Customers need to be able to zoom in on content. More specifically, they should be able to increase the size of your website by 200% with clear readability. You also need to clearly show what information is hyperlinked. Better yet, you will also tell the user where the link will redirect them. Hyperlinks should be underlined, bolded, in italics, a different color or otherwise look different from normal text.

Also, make sure your design stays consistent. If underlined text detonates a hyperlink, don’t also make underlined text signify that something is important. You must be consistent with your layout and meaning so your website is accessible for more users.

Presentation. Descriptive text is written content that clearly outlines meaning and provides information on upcoming information. Nested headings allow users with assistive devices to better understand the outline and structure of content on your website.

Color should be used as a design element and it should not be needed to understand the content. If color conveys meaning, an alternative or explanation should also be present.

Forms need to be easy to fill out and easy to fix. Your form can be simple, in fact, this is a good design principle, but it needs to clearly define what’s required, point out errors and help users understand the path to resolution.

Labels allow all images, videos and other visual elements to be useful for individuals, even if they can’t clearly see the information. Also, take extra time to make sure your code is free of errors, such as broken links. No consumer will be impressed with a site that’s not well-designed.

User control. Automatic popups can be a marketer’s dream and a customer’s worst nightmare. Avoiding popups in the first place is a best practice for accessible design, but if you must use them, do so carefully. If your site includes popups, make sure they’re easy to exit for all your customers.

Also, the more you can avoid automatic elements, the better. You don’t want a video to automatically play or the appearance of your site to change without the user’s knowledge.

Any portion of your site that’s time-dependent should be changeable as well. Some individuals need longer time periods to complete activities. Make sure your site isn’t timing out or otherwise hindering someone who needs an extended amount of time to use your site.

Early adopters will benefit from having accessible websites.

Creating an accessible website will help your current customers, future customers and overall business outlook. Sure, making your website accessible might not feel as quick and easy as some of the other tasks on your list, but it is so worth it in the long run. The more accessible your site, the more potential for satisfied customers. Optimizing your site for accessibility is the right business and socially-conscience move to make.

Image Credit:

Bojan89/Getty Images

Nathan Resnick
Nathan Resnick
Nathan Resnick is a serial entrepreneur who currently serves as CEO of Sourcify, a marketplace of the world's top manufacturers. Having brought dozens of products to life, he knows the ins and outs of how to turn ideas into realities.