Accessibility for Online Retail Websites

posted on 26 August 2010 by Alice Thomas

The majority of people in the UK do not suffer from a physical or mental impairment and it's easy to forget that hundreds of thousands of people in the UK do suffer from disability. With each disability comes a different set of challenges to how people use websites. Due to the great range of disabilities, a standard set of accessibility guidelines were written by W3C (the internet governing body) with the aim of helping the greatest number of people affected.

Web accessibility is an issue of ever-increasing importance. The Disability Discrimination Act (1999) identifies websites as a service that must be accessible to disabled people and yet according to the Disability Rights Commission, 80% of websites could be unusable for those with disabilities. 

Not only is this a frustrating situation for disabled people, websites found to be insufficiently accessible are breaking the law and could be liable for legal action. In reality the chances of your website being sued for not being accessible are slim, but there are other reasons why you should invest in making your website fully accessible.  

Getting accessibility right will improve your website's usability and search engine optimisation, meaning that your website will be better indexed and easier to find (increased traffic), for all users, not just those with disabilities.

 

Accessibility for High Street retailers:

Webcredible, a leading web-user research company surveyed 20 of the UK's leading high street retailers (and Woolworths which is now solely online), in January 2010 to find out how accessible their websites were. Here's a link to a copy of the full report  Accessibility of the Online High Street- An evaluation of the accessibility of UK ecommerce retailers in 2010'

The process was simple- Going through each website, following the same paths as a typical user, i.e. homepage, search results, browse, product, basket and registration pages.

Each website was evaluated against 20 best practice guidelines and assigned a score of 0 to 5 for each guideline, with 5 being the maximum. With 20 guidelines in total, websites were assigned a total Web Accessibility Index rating out of 100. The guidelines represent a cross-section of important accessibility criteria across all user groups with disabilities and included:

 

General

1. Text is resizable and remains legible when resized

2. Descriptive page titles used

 

Images

3. Information images have useful ALT text

4. Decorative images have null ALT text & aren't links by themselves

5. Text isn't embedded within images

 

Headings

6. Headings are correctly labelled as headings

7. All sections of the page have their own heading

8. Headings stand out from regular text

 

Links

9. Link text makes sense out of context and is front-loaded

10. A focus state is provided for links

11. Links use a high contrast colour

12. Links employs the widest possible area

 

HTML code

13. All lists labelled as lists

14. Skip to main content link provided

15. Decorative items not inserted through HTML code

16. CSS used for layout

 

Forms

17. Form label present and correctly positioned

18. Labels assigned to form items

19. Form items don't cause auto-refresh

20. Forms effectively designed

 

It's not all bad new when it comes to accessibility. Some big name retailers fared well - B&Q took the top slot with John Lewis, H.Samuel, Argos, Boots and HMV all appearing in the top 5.  However, overall the report concludes that with an average score of just over 60% some retailers are still failing to make progress when it comes to making their websites more accessible. In fact, the average score has actually decreased on last year's results, with the lowest results falling dramatically.

For more information on accessibility and what it could mean for your business take a look at the following useful links:

W3C

Equality Human Rights - Accessibilty

Andy Higgs