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How to Create an Accessible E-Commerce Website

Nathan Resnick
Nathan Resnick
Updated Nov 23, 2022

Learn how to make your e-commerce website accessible for people with disabilities.

You would set up a wheelchair ramp and other accommodations for people with disabilities at a retail store, but have you considered how to make your company website accessible as well? How user-friendly is your site for people with disabilities? As a business owner, you are responsible for making sure your website is accessible, and having a fully functioning site is one aspect of a strong e-commerce marketing strategy. But it’s more than just a business consideration; ensuring your website is truly usable by all is just the right thing to do.

What is an accessible website?

An accessible website is one that can be fully used by anyone, including individuals who are deaf or blind, or who navigate by voice, as well as anyone with a speech, visual, auditory, cognitive or physical disability.

This may sound like a daunting list of considerations, but creating an accessible website isn’t as difficult as you might think. Here are two examples of how your e-commerce site could easily be altered to accommodate people with special needs:

  • Resizing, respacing or recoloring the text or graphics to accommodate viewers with vision impairments
  • Providing a button that pauses animations and flashing designs so the page is more accessible for people with epilepsy

You don’t have to make these changes on your own. There are many affordable resources available to help you create an accessible e-commerce website with the power of artificial intelligence. You can also hire a web design agency to build an accessible website, although this can be difficult because not all firms understand what website accessibility is and how a site must be created and updated to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). [See our small business website design tips.]

How do you create an accessible e-commerce website?

If you decide to create an accessible e-commerce website yourself, you can do it quickly and effectively if you have the right information and know-how. See the following three tips to get you started, and be sure to check out our recommendations for the best e-commerce platforms.

1. Start with visual and hearing considerations.

There are many types of disabilities, and while it’s important to consider everyone, you need to start somewhere. Begin by making your website accessible to people who are blind or deaf, or who have limited vision or hearing.

Think about users who navigate the internet through voice and design. Make sure your site’s text can be accessed by people who are blind or have limited vision; for example, 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 elements to include are text transcripts for visual content for users who need another way to understand the content they can’t see.

TipTip: One simple adjustment that can make a big difference is to clearly define your website’s language (English, Spanish, etc.). Some people use text readers to access the internet. If the user knows what language your website uses, they will be able to use the text reader more easily and effectively.

2. Focus on the finer details of website accessibility.

When building your e-commerce site with accessibility in mind, you need to think about usability, appearance, presentation and user control. Here is what that means in practice:

Usability

Make sure every part of your website has more than one point of access. For example, if a person with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) uses their eyes as a cursor, they may need an on-screen keyboard to fill out a form. 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

Users need to be able to zoom in on content. More specifically, they should be able to increase the text to 200% with easy readability. You also need to clearly show what information is hyperlinked and, ideally, also tell the user where the link will redirect them. Hyperlinks should be underlined, bold, italicized and/or in a different color to look distinct from normal text.

Also, make sure your design stays consistent throughout every page and section. If underlined text usually denotes a hyperlink, don’t also make underlined text signify that something is important. You must be consistent with your layout and design meanings so your website is more easily accessible and understood.

Presentation

Descriptive text is written content that clearly outlines the meaning and provides 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 should not be needed to understand the content. If color conveys meaning, an alternative or explanation should also be present. Forms also need to be easy to fill out and easy to fix. Your form can be simple, but it needs to clearly define what’s required, point out errors and help users understand the path to resolution.

Employ labels, which 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 HTML code is free of errors, such as broken links. No consumer will be impressed with a site that’s not functional.

User control

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

Also, the more you can avoid automatic elements, the better. You don’t want a video to play automatically or the appearance of your site to change without input from the user. Meanwhile, the user should be able to change any portion of your site that’s time-dependent. Some individuals need a longer time to complete activities. Make sure your website isn’t timing out or otherwise hindering someone who needs an extended amount of time to use your site.

3. Provide seamless customer service.

It’s wise to have your site automatically offer to help any user who’s struggling to navigate your website. Regardless of whether the person has a disability, 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 be able to reach you by email, live chat and phone. Make sure your website is capable of easily initiating those communication methods so consumers have a smooth way of reaching out regardless of whether they have disabilities. After all, technology should enhance communication, not hinder it.

Why do accessibility and ADA compliance matter?

If you want your website to succeed in the modern world, it needs to be accessible to everyone. 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.

Regulations under the ADA require commercial facilities to provide accessible designs for people with disabilities. Although there are currently no enforceable legal standards that dictate web accessibility, many e-commerce stores are required to comply with the ADA. [See the legal issues every e-commerce business faces.]

Any business with at least 15 full-time employees or that operates at least 20 weeks a year should be ADA-compliant. Companies that operate for public accommodation, such as a bank or a hotel, are also required to comply with ADA regulations. This is the case regardless of the number of employees or how many weeks per year the business operates. Additionally, businesses that have websites that are 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.

FYIFYI: Accessibility considerations extend beyond customers; you may need to make business accommodations for employees with disabilities, too. Hiring people with disabilities can actually help your company, so don’t let the potential need for accommodations turn you off.

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

Jamie Johnson contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.

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.