Running a modern e-commerce business means having a picture-perfect website that facilitates an ideal online user experience (UX). UX is optimized when as many people as possible can use an e-commerce website with minimal friction. How users navigate should make perfect sense and be seamless. Meeting the needs of “as many people as possible” includes those with disabilities.

The Americans Disabilities Act (ADA) sets standards for accommodation in public places. Language in that act has sometimes been used to defend accessibility in digital spaces. The standards for how to set up an ADA compliant website are actually not stipulated specifically by the ADA. Rather, website accessibility standards are set by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), which publishes web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG). These provide clear and detailed components a website must have to pass muster.

Why Have an Accessible E-commerce Website?

Rather than being a “nice thing to add on,” having an accessible e-commerce website is essential for two reasons:

  1. Having an e-commerce website out of compliance with WCAG accessibility guidelines makes you vulnerable to lawsuits. In 2020 alone, more than 2,500 cases made it to court alleging that people with disabilities were unable to use websites.
  2. Experts estimate that people with disabilities have about $490 billion of after-tax disposable income, similar in total to entire racial segments of the population. This is a huge business opportunity that could be missed if an e-commerce website isn’t ADA accessible.

There are 4 components to e-commerce website accessibility. The team at Smart Solutions has whipped up our key recommendations for how to get your e-commerce website WCAG compliant. If you need a hand, we can help with that too. In partnership with Accessible 360, we work to improve e-commerce websites for impaired users by adhering to online accessibility standards. This has the dual benefit of protecting you from litigation and increasing your bottom line. Win-win. Contact us to learn more.

WCAG Guidelines: POUR

When you want to create an accessible e-commerce website, do so in the name of love (pour some sugar… get it?). This acronym delineates the four components of website accessibility:

  1. Perceivable
  2. Operable
  3. Understandable
  4. Robust

We’ve put together some lists of what to check or change on your website to fall into line with those four areas of compliance.

Perceivable

This standard means that the information and user interface elements on your website must be presented to users in ways they can perceive. Users should be able to perceive site information and it can’t be invisible to them. That may seem pretty straightforward, but consider that the disabilities of people using the internet may include visually impared users (blindness, color blindness or low vision), hearing impairment, cognitive impairment or other challenges.

Here are some ways to assess whether your website is perceivable to impaired users:

  • Is there text that a screen reader can use to describe images to people who cannot see?
  • Is audio easy to turn on or off?
  • Is video easy to turn on or off?
  • Is content laid out simply, with a visual hierarchy, and easy to understand?
  • Are the layouts intuitive and simple?
  • Is there text to describe colors or shapes, or at least some context to aid understanding?
  • What is the contrast between background colors and text?

All of these assessment questions can be easily turned into a to do list, if one or more of them are clearly absent on your website.

Operable

Operability addresses the need for user interface elements and navigation to be operable by people with any kind of disability. This means that using the website must not require actions or interactions an impaired user is unable to perform.

Here are some ways to analyze your site in terms of operability:

  • Is all functionality available from a keyboard?
  • Do users have the ability to stop motion, or slow down interactions?
  • Is content thoughtfully designed and checked that it will not cause seizures?
  • Is it easy for users to navigate through online content and find their place on the website?
  • Are there digital breadcrumbs so users can easily retrace back to previous web pages?

Operability can be largely aided by design and development that includes web page titles, descriptive text, sequenced web pages, clearly marked links and the ability to bypass text that repeats across multiple pages.

Understandable

For a website to meet the understandable standard, it must be easy for users with any limitation to work their way around. Both the online content and operation of the website must be within the cognitive level or understanding of someone with disabilities.

This can feel subjective, but there are some objective criteria you can use to assess your e-commerce site. Check your website and ask:

  • Do we use a lot of jargon or abbreviations?
  • What is the average grade level of the online content?
  • Do web pages appear and function in predictable ways?
  • Is navigation and functionality consistent across the site?
  • Do users have ways to find help and correct mistakes?
  • Are there clear instructions throughout the site?

Ideally, you will aim for around a 9th grade reading level on your site. If your work or even product line is highly technical and requires extensive vocabulary, you should have descriptions and definitions to help as many users as possible understand your online products and services.

Robust

“Robust” addresses the need for substantive online content. Often, implementation of standards in this area has to do with content creation that can be interpreted by assistive technologies.

Assistive technologies that people with disabilities use on the internet include:

  • Audio players
  • Audio recorders
  • Screen readers
  • Magnifiers
  • Braille displays
  • Reading guides
  • Writing supports
  • Text to speech systems
  • Pointers

There are hundreds of platforms that provide assistive technologies, and plenty of ways to ensure that your e-commerce site is robust enough to provide those technologies with good online content and direction.

Note: this coverage of the four basic components of WCAG standards is broad. You should know that there are many specific website accessibility standards your site should meet. To ensure that you are in fact compliant, you will need to thoroughly review WCAG 2.1 (the current standards) and update your website accordingly.

Smart Solutions: Building ADA Compliant Websites According to WCAG Standards

Ultimately, an ADA compliant website, or WCAG compliant website, is about understanding how people with disabilities use a digital platform. Putting yourself in their shoes, then creating a navigable, easy user experience, ensures that you are serving as broad a segment of the population as possible.

Web developers have to design with online accessibility in mind, but not all of them do. If you need an e-commerce partner, Smart Solutions is here for you. We are on mission and fully equipped to build websites that are accessible to people with disabilities, or improve an existing website for online accessibility. Let’s talk.

To better understand how ADA is applied to websites and WCAG compliance visit the Smart Solutions Resource center to read our comprehensive guide.