Business Advice

How to create an inclusive online shopping experience for consumers with disabilities

- February 7, 2024 4 MIN READ

Online shopping is a pastime many of us enjoy—it’s fast, convenient and offers a world of products at our fingertips, enhancing our lifestyles in countless ways. It has revolutionised the way we shop, but I am finding that in the rush to digitise commerce, many businesses aren’t taking the time to ask themselves – are these digital shopping experiences accessible to everyone? Explains Kerry Kingham, CEO of online marketplace Chooze.

As we navigate these digital marketplaces, it’s crucial to remember that not everyone experiences them the same way. For consumers with disabilities, the online shopping experience can be fraught with barriers, making accessibility an essential aspect of e-commerce.

What is accessibility, and why is it so important in eCommerce?

For consumers with disabilities, an accessible online shopping experience means having the autonomy to browse, compare and purchase products independently. It means ensuring that the products, services and digital environments you offer are designed to be easily usable by people with a range of disabilities, including learning disabilities, neurodiversity and physical, visual, auditory and cognitive differences.

It’s about creating an inclusive space that upholds the principle of equal opportunity for all, aligning with legal requirements like the Disability Discrimination Act in Australia, which mandates accessible goods and services for everyone.

Accessibility is not just a matter of inclusivity; it’s also a smart business strategy. Increased accessibility allows you to expand your market reach and tap into a wider market of consumers who are all too often overlooked. Better yet, a greater focus on accessibility fosters greater innovation, pushing us to think creatively about how we design and deliver online experiences, resulting in design features which benefit all.

Tips for creating an inclusive online shopping experience

As the CEO and Managing Director of Chooze, one of Australia’s largest online marketplaces for Australians with disabilities, I’ve made it my mission to innovate eCommerce solutions for the disability and aged care sectors. To help you ensure your digital storefronts are welcoming and accessible to all, here are my top tips:

  • Adhere to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG): Ensure your website aligns with WCAG guidelines, providing alternative text for images, ensuring text-background contrast and enabling keyboard navigation. These guidelines are periodically updated to reflect technological advancements and emerging best practices in digital accessibility.
  • Implement Responsive Design: A responsive website automatically adjusts to fit the screen size and resolution of any device, including smartphones, tablets, and different computer screen sizes. This flexibility is particularly important for users with visual impairments who may rely on screen magnification tools.
  • Simplify Site Navigation: Organising your website with a logical structure, clear headings and sitemap can significantly improve navigability. Clear and consistent navigation aids users with cognitive disabilities, helping users understand their location within your site.
  • Enable Customisation: Include features that allow users to adjust font sizes, colours, and other visual elements to suit their needs. Including text-to-speech functionality is also highly recommended for those with visual impairments.
  • Use ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) Landmarks: These help screen reader users better understand how the page is organised and facilitates navigation to various sections of the page.
  • Offer Multiple Customer Service Access Points: Some users have difficulty communicating via the phone or through text. Offering multiple ways to access customer service, including email, phone, video calls with sign language support, and real-time chat options will accommodate different communication needs.
  • Provide Alt text for Images: Provide descriptive alternative text for images so that screen-reader users can understand visual content.
  • Offer Captioning and Transcripts: If you have audio and video content, always offer captions and transcripts so deaf or hard-of-hearing users can access this information.
  • Avoid Seizure-Triggering Content: Avoid content that flashes more than three times in any one-second period, as this can trigger seizures in users with photosensitive epilepsy. If you must include this content, ensure it is clearly labelled with a warning.
  • Test with Real Users: Engaging with diverse users, including people with various disabilities, can provide insights that automated testing tools cannot. This feedback is invaluable for identifying and addressing accessibility issues.Streamline Your Checkout Process: The checkout process should be straightforward, with clear instructions and clear error messages, so if something goes wrong, the user can correct the issue without confusion.
  • Commit to Continuous Improvement: Accessibility should be part of your site maintenance and improvement cycle. Regularly audit your site and update your accessibility features as technology and standards evolve. Leverage tools like “accessiBe” the web accessibility solution-suite, to provide consistent feedback.

Embracing accessibility: A path to inclusive eCommerce

Creating an inclusive online shopping experience is a journey, not a one-time task. It’s about making a continuous commitment to ensure that every customer, regardless of their abilities, feels valued and accommodated.

Despite the clear benefits, many businesses face challenges in implementing accessible eCommerce practices. These range from a lack of awareness and technical expertise to concerns about costs and the complexity of complying with accessibility standards.

These challenges, while significant, highlight an opportunity for growth and innovation. Overcoming them requires education, investment and a shift in perspective to recognise the substantial benefits of accessibility, including a broader customer base, enhanced customer loyalty and a positive public image.

By embracing accessibility, businesses can not only meet the needs of individuals with disabilities but also position themselves as leaders in a more inclusive, equitable and diverse digital marketplace.

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