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How eCommerce Sites Must Deal With Accessibility in the Age of Coronavirus

By: Jeff Bullas


An online store on a laptop computer in competition with physical retailers

Everyone is (supposed to be) staying home until it is once again safe to return to our regular routines. For example, individuals who may have otherwise visited a physical store can no longer do so and must use the web to shop online.

While this might seem trivial to the able-bodied, for people with disabilities this spells out disaster, as reports show that 98% of websites do not meet ADA compliance. To grasp what a user experience feels like for people with disabilities in an inaccessible website, imagine a blind person unable to browse through your online store with her screen-reader to hear what you’re selling, or a person with a motor disability unable to navigate your site with the TAB key, and unable to use a mouse as an alternative.

Every website must be reasonably accessible and usable by everyone, regardless of any disability or impairment, regardless of what device they use or what screen resolution they have. But unfortunately, that isn’t the case, and people with disabilities are being excluded from the web on a day-to-day basis, including the world of online shopping.

This is no small portion of the general population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 57 million Americans (19% of the population) had a disability in 2010. These include issues with vision, hearing, walking, mental acuity, and fine motor skills. It’s safe to assume that the global Internet audience would reflect a similar kind of percentage.

eCommerce and Coronavirus W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative

The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) led by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) outlines a number of standards and recommendations for how websites and web services can best serve this diverse demographic. It also provides a number of support materials to help you understand and implement accessibility in an appropriate manner.

But, as an eCommerce site owner, what can you actually do?

Automatic web accessibility

It can feel overwhelming to look over all these standards and best practices, even if you are working with a number of web design professionals. Instead, it is both more comprehensive and more robust to utilize an automatic solution like accessiBe, which provides you with a single line of JavaScript code that you implement on your site, much like Google Analytics.

accessiBe automatic web accessibilty tool ecommerce and coronavirus

The code runs an AI algorithm that alters the code and ensures your site is ADA compliant within 48 hours. Blind users that are using screen-readers will be able to navigate your site since the solution will make sure your code has the proper usage of ARIA label attributes, and the AI will automatically insert alt-tags to your images using OCR technology. Lastly, the code will be adjusted to make sure people with motor disabilities have no problem browsing your site using the TAB key.

Browser compatibility

Making improvements to your eCommerce site in terms of accessibility is good, but it won’t do you any good if your website isn’t fully compatible with the web browser the user is actually using. Therefore you must test your site across a broad range of browsers, devices and screen sizes.

For instance, some screen readers may not work properly because of browser compatibility issues. You need to ensure that your site supports the latest browser versions so screen readers, like those that offer a speech synthesizer (text-to-speech) or a braille display, work correctly. Remember that special browsers made specifically for users who are visually impaired may differ from mainstream browsers.

Blisk browser for UX designers

A good starting point might be to preview your site using multiple browsers with a tool like BrowserShots. Better still, your site designers and developers can utilize a developer-centric browser like Blisk so that your site is compatible from the get-go. Think about button size and layout, particularly what happens if a user zooms in significantly as might be the case if someone is visually impaired.

Audio and video transcription

What about users with hearing impairment or who may not be able to listen to audio for any number of reasons? Even disabilities aside, imagine the work-at-home parent who doesn’t want to wake a sleeping baby while watching an important video. Or just someone who doesn’t want to listen through a lengthy podcast.

While audiovisual content can be incredibly popular and powerful for your marketing and advertising efforts, accessibility is equally important. Getting a full transcript of any of your AV assets is an important investment in your eCommerce success. Scribie, as an example, offers both automated and manual transcription services for an affordable price.

New delivery options

In the age of coronavirus, amidst all this uncertainty, a great number of primarily brick-and-mortar stores have had to quickly implement or upgrade their eCommerce strategies to match this changing climate. They must concern themselves not only with the web accessibility of their online ordering platforms but also accessibility from a logistics perspective.

For example, Vancouver area bakery Chez Christophe once operated primarily as a walk-in cafe and takeout counter. As social distancing was enacted and as the cafe could no longer welcome customers into the store, Chez Christophe had to adapt.

Quickly implementing a number of changes, Chez Christophe soon allowed customers to order from the full catalog online, including fresh baked goods, for curbside pickup without ever actually entering the store itself. The bakery also started offering contactless delivery within a 10-kilometer range.

Real user stories and feedback

As a business owner, you oftentimes like to think that you know what is best for your customer. You go in with the assumption that if you and your team think this product or service is a good idea and offers great value, your potential customers will eat it all up. Of course, innumerable failed ventures have proven the reverse to be true.

accessiBe automatic web accessibilty tool ecommerce and coronavirus

The only way that you’ll really know what you’re doing well and where you can improve is if you ask the users themselves. Rather than going through the immense complexity and preparation involved to facilitate such a task yourself, it makes much more sense to leverage a platform like Userlytics for your web and mobile user experience needs.

You define a specific task for users to complete, and you’ll receive a full picture-in-picture video (with the user’s camera and the screen recording) of how each user completed that task. This can reveal some weaknesses in your design that you can then address to improve usability and accessibility.

Adjusting to the new normal

At this point, it’s impossible to tell when (and even if) the world will return to the “normal” it once knew just a few short weeks or months ago. During these uncertain times, it is absolutely certain that eCommerce sites need to be prepared and optimized for both an increase in potential traffic and a potential increase in the diversity of users.

Web accessibility standards are constantly evolving, and the guidelines can change as technology and user needs change over time. A significant segment of the population is turning to the Internet much more frequently to address their day-to-day needs, much more so than they may have before the COVID-19 global pandemic.

As more people order online, eCommerce stores must adjust accordingly to fit the needs of all site visitors and customers. Everyone deserves equal access to the same goods and services as everyone else, even on the internet.

Author: Zac Johnson is a world-renowned blogger and entrepreneur with nearly 20 years of experience in the online marketing space and has helped his readers generate millions of dollars online. He shares his story and guidance at ZacJohnson.com

Published: June 29, 2020

Source: Jeff Bullas

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Jeff Bullas

Jeff Bullas is a consultant, blogger, strategist, and speaker. He works with companies and executives to optimize their online personal and corporate brands through the use of social media channels. Author of the Amazon best-selling book Blogging the Smart Way—How to Create and Market a Killer Blog with Social Media (Jeff Bullas, 2012), Jeff's own blog is included in AdAge.com's Power 150 ranking as a top 50 marketing blog.

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