Compared to brick and mortar stores, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations for eCommerce stores are relatively lax. You don’t need a certain number of fire exits or sprinkler heads. You don’t need handicapped parking spaces, wheelchair ramps, or bathroom stalls designed specifically for people with disabilities. Though eCommerce doesn’t have any of those issues, ADA accessibility is an issue you shouldn’t ignore.
What is ADA Accessibility and Who Does It Serve?
The ADA defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity.” Disabilities that affect online shoppers can include vision impairment, blindness, reading difficulty or dyslexia, being hard of hearing, or any disability that prevents the use of a traditional keyboard or mouse.
People with these disabilities often use accessibility equipment to navigate the internet. Some of the most common equipment, like screen readers or special speakers, work by “reading” the website out loud. In order for these tools to work properly, certain guidelines must be followed when creating and maintaining a site. A website’s accessibility is determined by how well it complies with those guidelines.
Why Does ADA Accessibility Matter?
Making sure your eCommerce store is ADA Compliant is important for a few reasons.
- Prepares you for the future
In the US, ADA regulations for brick and mortar stores are very clear, but the law hasn’t quite caught up to technology. Whether eCommerce retailers should be held to the same accessibility standards is a hotly contested topic. Since 2003, the Department of Justice has been making strides to formally apply ADA regulations to internet businesses, and it does seem to be a matter of when, not if, those laws will take effect. Recent developments indicate that the standard may be applied within the next few years. Ensuring accessibility now will prepare you for the inevitable.
- Minimizes legal liability
While the Federal law may still be ambiguous, civil law has been pretty clear on this matter. Many companies have already faced a lawsuit or fine for having a non-compliant eCommerce store or website, including:
Target, Domino’s Pizza, Patagonia, Home Depot, Bed Bath & Beyond, Ace Hardware, Potbelly Sandwich Works, Reebok, JCPenney, Panera Bread, Bank of America, Safeway, Charles Schwab, Foot Locker, Toys “R” Us, Brooks Brothers, the National Basketball Association (NBA), and AMC Theatres
In one of the more publicized claims, Target Corporation faced a huge lawsuit and litigation brought by the National Federation of the Blind in 2008. Target paid $6 million to settle the class-action suit and nearly $4 million more to cover the plaintiffs’ attorney fees and other costs. While this type of payout isn’t common, it does set a very pricey standard.
- Increases your potential customer pool
The disabled community is an underserved demographic. Making sure your site is compliant can give you a competitive edge, in more ways than one. It’s just common sense: If someone can’t access your website, they can’t buy your products. You could have fantastic marketing, stellar SEO, killer products, and superb customer service, but if your website isn’t ADA accessible, you could be leaving money on the table.Compliance can even improve your organic search results. Many search engines rely on the same elements accessibility tools use; after all, search engine bots and spiders can’t see images or hear audio content. Optimizing your site for ADA accessibility has the added benefit of optimizing your site for search engines.
What Are Some ADA Accessibility Failures?
Any number of traits could cause a failure for an ADA Web Accessibility check. Here are just a few of the most common issues:
- Improper text size
- Missing alt text in images
- Missing labels for input text types
- Anchor links with no text
- Incorrect H1 or header tag placement
- Images with low-contrast text
- Example: Grey text on a black background
- Incompatible line length and legibility
- Forms with improper tab ordering
- Vague wording for code, copy, and errors
- Example: “Enter your info to sign up” vs. “Enter your first, last name, and email to sign up”
- Main navigation isn’t streamlined for easy access
How Can You Review Your Own Site?
The first step in making your website accessible to the disabled community is assessing the current state of your website. You can easily scan your website to see what types of issues are in play. At Gauge, we use a web service called AChecker. Try it out on your site.
We suggest checking your site against Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA. Maintaining the highest level of compliance—WCAG 2.0 Level AAA—can have a significant impact on the cost and user experience of your website. Level AA guidelines offer a good middle ground between ADA compliance and general user experience; it’s widely considered to be the most practical and reasonable level of compliance for private retailers. And if you’re using Magento, Level AA is the highest level you can reach, due to the design of its core application.
Review the Scan Results & Fix the Issues
Let’s take a look at a popular site, CNN.com. We’ve listed some common compliance problems already, but this example shows something important: Even a hugely successful, wildly popular site like this one has some easily-avoided problems, like missing alt tags. It takes a process, in both the build of a new site and in ongoing site maintenance, to be in compliance. Ensuring that best practices are understood and followed must become a part of your development and feature roll out process. Until you ask yourself “Is this feature ADA compliant?” when you roll out a new rewards program or implement any new feature, you won’t truly be in a good spot.
The best thing about AChecker is that it actually gives you the reason a check failed and general examples on how to fix the issue. As you can see in the example below, this will really help your developer or agency resolve issues quickly and successfully.
Costs & Incentives
US companies can take advantage of government incentives for making your site compliant. Qualifying businesses (online and offline) may claim a one-time tax credit to cover up to 50% of eligible costs. These tax credits apply to expenses between $250 and $10,250, and cover costs like interpreters, acquiring or modifying equipment or devices, and other auxiliary aids.
The average cost to make a small or medium-sized eCommerce store ADA accessible ranges between $27,000 and $50,000, depending on the size of the website. Becoming compliant will take an investment, but remember, that’s truly what it is—an investment. Eventually, reaching and maintaining compliance won’t be an option. Getting compliant now will pay off and save you the headache of rushing a compliance project down the road, and could save you a very expensive lawsuit in the meantime.
Gauge Can Help
You don’t need to tackle compliance alone. Gauge can help you review, audit, and configure your site to achieve ADA compliance up to WCAG 2.0 Level AA standards. Want to get a conversation started? Simply complete our contact form and list ADA Compliance in the message area.