Part 1: Accessibility is Necessary

Written By: Phillip Jackson, Ecommerce Evangelist

Often when we talk about accessibility we really mean designing for disability, but accessibility is so much more than that. To begin let's discuss what modern accessibility looks like and how it benefits all users.

Accessibility in 2016

Equality

At Something Digital we approach design in a unique way. We purpose to make the user experience meaningful and personal for all users. With more people shopping online now than ever before we face myriad challenges when approaching an accessible design: everyone from the permanently disabled to the temporarily disabled; from an amputee purchasing running shoes to a mother holding her newborn in one arm and purchasing diapers with a free hand via her mobile device - designing for all means we have to keep a number of things in mind.

With personalization becoming more and more prevalent on ecommerce sites it is important for us to consider how users of all abilities access our stores. Consider this: if an able-bodied person deserves to have a personalized experience on your site, shouldn't a differently-abled person have a personalized experience, too.

Equitable Experiences

Our aim is to provide accessible site experiences that give equity to the users. Not all users use all site features, after all, so the bulk of our investment in accessible design is centered around the conversion funnel. This extends beyond the Product Detail Page and Checkout, though. It includes newsletter signup, promotions, and site search, too.

When we talk about equitable experiences we don't intend to make the experience unified for everyone - but rather provide additional support where it is necessary for those who need it. For instance, semantic HTML tags are a great start overall, but sometimes additional Aria tagging is necessary (stay tuned for Part 2 of our series for more on Aria). For screen readers the most important element of site design is the ability to maintain focus. When a link is clicked and displays a modal, for instance, focus should be moved to that modal. Once dismissed focus should then be returned to the prior link or textarea that it was stolen from.

The easy road would be to remove these types of difficult to navigate use cases altogether. However, it is these types of accessible features are there for those who need it, and are transparent to those who do not, that embodies equitable accessibility!

Disability isn't always permanent

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Designing for accessibility gives all users the ability to have the same experience when shopping on your site. A person with temporarily diminished eyesight will benefit just as greatly from an accessible website as another person with a permanent impairment. Not all abilities require medical or physical conditions. Using a mobile device in bright sunlight or after a few too many to drink can be just as difficult has having reduced vision.

By approaching font-size and color contrast in an accessibility-first design exercise we make sure that all users have the same experience.

By replacing iconography with simple text instructions mobile users can greatly benefit from the smaller page sizes. By implementing common keyboard navigation techniques to menus web crawlers such as Google can understand and prioritize navigation structures on your sites. By testing our designs with browser plugins that emulate common colorblindness we can find potential issues with conversion, such as drawing attention to your Call to Action.

Designing for Accessibility is just good business

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At Something Digital we're also finding that businesses who invest in an accessibility-first approach to design are making an investment in the future. Many State and Federal laws in North America and Europe are becoming more and more sensitive to the needs of disabled citizens. Large Enterprises and Small to Medium-sized Businesses alike are facing ADA and Section 508 lawsuits in courts today in the United States. While the courts battle these issues in the United States we're already beginning to see rules begin to form in Europe.

Like with most things an ounce of prevention can be worth more than a pound of cure. Rather than face potential litigation now we often advise merchants to engage in an accessibility exercise and add it to your compliance calendar as part of your IT and Marketing organizations. 

While you improve your site's accessibility many sites also see an uplift in traffic and conversion as a result, offsetting the initial investment. While no amount of implementation can completely indemnify a web store owner in the event of a lawsuit, taking a proactive approach and becoming familiar with the requirements of ADA and WCAG 2.0 is a good exercise for digital marketing team.

Obvious and intentional approaches showing proactivity likely play well when settling disputes.

What can I do to become compliant? 

You can begin by performing a quick check of your site! There are many tools online to test simple ADA guidelines like font size and colors. Read more about the 
guidelines

You can get started with a quick self-assessment. After that we at Something Digital would love to talk with you about a UX audit and an Accessibility primer.

If you haven't yet make sure to sign up for our email list and we'll keep you up to date as we progress in this series!

What can I expect from Part 2 of the Accessibility Series?

In part 2 we will discuss the engineering challenges that surround accessibility and how you can utilize Magento to create a store that can be shopped by all of your customers.