Online retail web accessibility guide

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Tuesday, 25 November 2014 10:00am

Now that a legal case has been brought against Coles for a lack of web accessibility of its online shopping site, and that a similar case in the US against online grocer Peapod has been settled, it’s time for online retailers to act on improving access for people with disabilities.

Man browsing website on a MacBook Air

The good news is that improving web accessibility is relatively simple, and that there are clear and definite steps that can be taken to reduce exposure to discrimination claims under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.

Quick wins

The first step to take is to head to Media Access Australia’s dedicated web accessibility service, Access iQ, for its 10 easy web accessibility wins. This guide includes information on specific steps to make your website more accessible—things like making links meaningful, ensuring there is enough contrast between text and its background, and why you shouldn’t use CAPTCHAs to verify your customers.

WCAG 2.0

If you’re unaware as to why you should be taking the above steps, familiarising yourself with the global standard in web accessibility, the Worldwide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 is another important step.

However, WCAG 2.0 can be overwhelming, so Media Access Australia has created complete guides to help key roles navigate the standard—web designers, web developers, and web content authors. We also offer a range of professional services on web accessibility.

In conjunction with the University of South Australia, Media Access Australia also offers dedicated professional development via the Professional Certificate in Web Accessibility.

Assistive technology

Another key to understanding web accessibility is understanding assistive technology. Many web users with a disability rely on assistive technology to both understand the information presented on a website and to help navigate that website.

Falling into the first category are tools such as screen readers—including the zero-cost NVDA screen reader—which provide a synthesised voice to read out the contents of a website, and screen magnifiers, which make text easier to read for people with vision-related impairments.

Falling into the second category, keyboards themselves, trackballs or voice-recognition software allow people who may have mobility-related impairments to navigate a website without having to rely on a mouse.

A very good way to gauge your website’s level of accessibility is to turn on your screen reader, turn off your monitor, then only using your keyboard, try to perform basic tasks such as finding contact or trading hours information, doing a product search, or navigating through product menus. If you can’t perform these tasks your site is inaccessible.

Image is everything

While images are touched on in Access iQ’s 10 easy web accessibility wins, in an online retail context, it’s particularly important to ensure that web images are accessible. (While we’re on the topic of the power of images, it’s also very important to make sure any video content you have is captioned, or that a full transcript of the video is also provided.)

Because online shopping experiences are so heavily reliant on images to convey information about products, you need to ensure that meaningful descriptions of what the image displays are provided so that users with vision-related impairments can’t access the same information.

These descriptions, referred to as alternative text or alt-text, need to be supplied for every single product you have—only images that are simply decorative do not require alt-text. And they have to be meaningful.

For example, an alt-text of ‘Apples’ would not be meaningful, but a description of ‘Granny Smith apples’ would be. Similarly, ‘Vegemite’, would not be meaningful, but ‘a 200 gram jar of Vegemite spread’ would be.  

Contact Media Access Australia

If you want to learn more about making you online retail site more accessible to people with disabilities—as well as to older members of the community, those from non-English-speaking backgrounds, and those with varying education levels— you can get in touch via our online contact form, or you can call +61 2 9212 6242.

Related web accessibility stories

Read our news articles covering the online grocer Peapod settling a web accessibility action and legal action against Coles over its website accessibility.

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