Unless you live with a disability, noticing when business websites don’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may not be on your radar. But for the one in four Americans with some type of disability, ADA compliance determines which companies they can and can’t do business with – in-store and online.
The ADA turns 30 this year. Since it took effect, Americans with disabilities have brought staggering numbers of lawsuits against businesses for violations like employment discrimination and lack of customer accommodation. Because many of those suits focused on noncompliance in the workplace and in physical stores, it’s been easy for online merchants to forget that the ADA applies to their websites. But recent litigation is changing that.
Late last year, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of a blind customer who sued popular pizza chain Domino’s because the company’s website and app didn’t accommodate screen-reading software used by many people with vision impairments. The case put ecommerce on notice: it’s time to make your online stores accessible.
Eliminating liability for noncompliance is incentive enough to comply, but maintaining an accessible website or app offers other benefits, too. Accessibility improvements can boost site performance and deliver a positive user experience (UX) to customers of all abilities.
To help you achieve ADA compliance with ease, we’re breaking down the benefits and best practices for making accessibility a top priority for your ecommerce site in 2020.
Accessibility enhances customer experience
Customer experience is key to ecommerce success, but sites that aren’t accessible create negative experiences for a huge portion of the consumer market. In fact, Fast Company reports that disabled US adults of working age have $500 million in discretionary spending power.
Brands could be winning over those customers and earning their loyalty by providing an inclusive online experience that’s welcoming, seamless and memorable. But most sites aren’t set up to give them a great customer experience. When Think with Google reviewed a million homepages, they found an average of 60 unique accessibility errors per page. In other words, 60 ways to frustrate customers with disabilities.
Shoppers with disabilities do what most consumers do when a site delivers poor CX—they take their business elsewhere. A groundbreaking study out of the UK (soon to be updated with 2019 data) found that 71% of shoppers with disabilities abandoned sites that provided a poor experience. Inaccessibility-related abandonment costs UK merchants more than $15 billion each year.
Accessibility improves brand reputation
Advocates and people with disabilities promote and patronize sites that are accessible and easy for everyone of all abilities to use. It should go without saying that noncompliance can cause brand damage. Disability advocates and individuals with disabilities will steer clear of companies that don’t invest in accessibility, and the negative press can turn away other potential customers.
Accessibility can boost SEO
According to Search Engine Journal some of the metrics that engines use to rank your site can improve when your site meets accessibility standards. An accessible site turns away fewer users, decreasing bounce rates and negative reviews. Accessibility can also increase conversions and positive feedback, both of which will boost your rankings and positioning within search results.
For example, when the NPR show “This American Life” started adding transcripts of its programs to its website, searches for them raised inbound traffic by 6.68%. The show’s transcript pages also boosted the number of new inbound links to the TAL site by 3.89%.
Elements of an accessible, ADA-compliant site
While businesses can lose an ADA suit if their site isn’t accessible, there are no firm rules yet on what’s required for a website to be ADA compliant. But there are accessibility best practices based on Section 508 of the ADA and guidelines from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
Here are seven best practices for conquering compliance:
- Color contrast. When there’s not enough contrast between text and background colors, people with vision issues won’t be able to read your copy. Consider colorblindness when you’re choosing your site’s palette to avoid creating a confusing experience.
- Screen reader compatibility. Your site copy and alt text should be visible to screen reader software that converts text to speech.
- Alt text. Every design element on your site, like product photos and videos, icons and charts, should have alternative text that describes it.
- Fonts. People with vision impairments need easy to read fonts and an easy way to adjust font size.
- Navigation. Your entire site should be navigable by keyboard controls, for users who can’t use a mouse or touch screen. Don’t overlook your mobile app, which should be navigable via a keyboard interface.
- Audio and video alternatives. If you have podcasts or other audio in your store, include alt text or transcripts for hearing impaired users. For videos, include both alt text that describes the video content and on-screen captions for the audio tracks.
- Flashing images and animations. The W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) recommend excluding strobing content that might cause seizures in people with epilepsy and related conditions.
Making your ecommerce site accessible
Want to know how your site measures up on the compliance scale? You can enter your site URL at web.dev/measure for an accessibility score and tips for raising it.
Auditing your site for accessibility and making any needed improvements can be a time-consuming project that you may not have the resources to handle in-house.
Our team of web and user experience (UX) experts are here to help. Get in touch to talk through your web compliance challenges so you can reduce liability risk, deliver a better customer experience, and reap the benefits of an inclusive, accessible ecommerce site.