Is Your Website Accessible to Disabled Customers?


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How many aspects of our lives are now online?

It’s how we shop, socialize, work and entertain ourselves. One study found that most folks spend at least 24 hours a day online. And that number is higher for those of us who also work or go to school online.

Now imagine that while all our friends are finding new recipes, playing games, watching videos, or catching up on the day’s news, we’re blocked from doing these seemingly simple tasks because our favorite sites aren’t accessible for those with disabilities.

Photo courtesy Unsplash

Unless we or a loved one are disabled, we may not consider how important accessibility is to those with an impairment. Yet, 23% of disabled Americans never go online compared to 8% of abled Americans.

That’s 14 million Americans who are limited from accessing technology that we use on a daily basis!

Making our websites accessible to everyone is a legal and ethical issue. It’s also a substantial business issue since overlooking millions of customers simply because our sites can’t be navigated by disabled folks is a huge mistake.

Here are a few ideas to help us understand the scope of the issue and how we can improve access to all people.

Avoiding Potential Legal Issues

While counties differ in their legal protections for disabled folks, the United States has the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the 1990 law that requires businesses to make accommodations for those with disabilities. However, in Domino’s asks the Supreme Court to shut down a lawsuit requiring its website be accessible to blind people, Nick Statt explains:

At the core of the case is Domino’s insistence that it should not have to make its website, the predominant platform for ordering pizza from its physical stores, accessible to people with visual impairments. Specifically, Domino’s is contesting Robles’ claim that Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers mobile apps or websites, which effectively did not exist in modern form when the ADA was passed in 1990.

Photo courtesy Unsplash

The lawyer for Robles shares that there is a lot of room for innovation in this area. Instead of fighting the disabled, Robles believes the disabled should be considered a legitimate consumer power and companies should be happy to “take our money”. As this case is still in litigation, we don’t know the outcome for U.S. consumers. However, the potential fallout from this lawsuit could be very costly for any online business. Instead of putting themselves at risk, sites should start the process of becoming accessible now.

Build Goodwill or Damage Our Brands

Our brands are priceless. Our brands are the intangible threads that tie every aspect of our business together. We can consciously build our brand but hurt it simply because we seem insensitive to society’s most vulnerable people. And then we’re simply in damage control.

Photo courtesy Unsplash

Yet, brands are stepping up and creating new business opportunities. Here’s how a few companies are becoming allies:

  • M&S and Tommy Hilfiger both launched adaptive clothing for children and adults with disabilities
  • Starbucks opened a store in Washington State where all employees are fluent in American sign language
  • Procter& Gamble’s Herbal Essences created an inclusive bottle design for people with low to no vision
  • We want our brands to appeal to all people, whether they are disabled or not. We never want to be seen as dismissive or uncaring. Actress Samantha Renke, a disability campaigner, says “Brands need to sit down with disabled people and say right, tell me what you need and want.” With a little planning and dedication to equality, we can build our brand and serve our disabled customers.

    Accessibility 101

    For businesses that have never considered web accessibility before, the first step is the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) that created the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). This guide explains what it takes to meet the minimum standard and the first step towards improving accessibility is a site audit, followed by a site upgrade.

    Photo courtesy Unsplash

    The key to full accessibility starts with the keyboard. Every element of a site must be accessed entirely by using the TAB and SHIFT + TAB keys alone. Additionally, visually impaired folks need special considerations to increase visibility. In Do it yourself – the full guide to checking the accessibility level of your site, accessiBe CEO Shir Ekerling explains a few of the important website elements that we should audit:

    The world of accessibility consists of many important elements such as contrasts, font sizes/colors/locations/types, image descriptions, screen reader adjustments, keyboard navigation, intervals between elements, animation treatment, etc.

    Whether we choose to outsource our upgrades or rely on DIY tools, our main goal is to create a welcoming place for everyone. Online businesses focus on SEO, abandoned shopping cart and sales upgrades. Now we just need to add web accessibility to our list of website essentials.

    Accessibility is the Right Thing for Everyone

    Although the thought of upgrading our sites to full accessibility can seem overwhelming, it really is a good business move for two reasons. It opens up potential markets and can increase profitability and socially conscious companies create new opportunities for both branding and marketing. And while these are great business reasons, we shouldn’t forget why it’s a good thing for everyone:

    It’s just the right thing to do.

    Liesha Petrovich
    Liesha's a writer by day and Kyokushin Black Belt by night. She's the author of Killing Rapunzel: Learning How to Save Yourself Through Determination, Grit, and Self-Employment (her mother hates the title - but it's a metaphor mom!). She talks freelancing adventures at Microbusiness Essentials.


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