Using braille keyboards, those with visual impairments are able to shop online, making it more important that websites are compliant with accessibility requirements.
WASHINGTON — As more and more consumers shop for home furnishings using e-commerce, an increasing number of manufacturers and retailers are being challenged that their websites are not accessible to those with disabilities, primarily for those with visual and auditory impairments.
The latest numbers from the National Federation of the Blind state that 7.6 million Americans are living with a visual disability.
The standards for digital accessibility for those with such impairments are set by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 and the federal government’s Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Some of the common issues faced by those with visual disabilities involve the website challenges while they are using screen-reading software that reads the embedded code.
“When it comes to furniture, a lot of times the page has different products and the link is below the item, but there is no written indication of where the link is located,” said Robert Harris, National Industries for the Blind director of services development. “So the consumer may end up putting the wrong item in their cart.”
Harris said there are also challenges when the cart function is handled by a third-party company and that section of the site isn’t accessible to those with visual impairments.
Some other issues include the webpage not having enough contrast for the user to read the wording, such as with gray font on a black background; not using the correct alternative text to describe images; and product disclaimers being placed at the bottom of the page where the user can’t see them.
“For those with visual impairments, all aspects of the website need to be accessible including any attached PDFs, brochures and presentations,” said Doug Goist, program manager, services/IT projects, at National Industries for the Blind. “And any coupons that can be used in-store or online need to be readable to those with visual impairments so they are not denied equal access to a discount.”
There can also be problems with audio for websites that start with a video playing as soon as the consumer lands on the site. Those with visual impairments often can’t hear the screen reader in order to hit pause or the stop button. The NIB advises not having automatic content loads and instead allowing the user to click the play button.
The NIB can set up a scope-of-work to review any website for an hourly fee. Its reviewers make recommendations, and then either the company itself or its web developer can make the necessary changes.
“Since most websites are updated on a frequent basis, we recommend having it checked annually and audited to make sure it’s accessible,” said Harris. “Any website updates including adding new products, images and descriptions will need to be retested according to federal guidelines to make sure the site is still compliant.”
Chris Johansen, director of sales and marketing at Anttix, a web services company based in the Chicago area, said his company was recently contacted by a furniture retailer in Florida that had been sued for non-compliance to the accessibility standards. According to law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP, the total number of access lawsuits filed in federal court reached 2,250 in 2018, almost three times the number filed in 2017.
“Unfortunately, today most website designers and developers do not have accessibility standards in mind. This leaves retailers liable to expensive demand letters and even more expensive federal lawsuits,” Johansen said. “At Anttix, we have been developing compliant websites for our customers for more than three years. We think it’s important to focus on accessibility first rather than having to go back in later on and build it, which can be costly.”