Online shop owners – don’t neglect accessibility and prepare for European Accessibility Act

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If you own an online shop I really suggest that you make it as accessible as possible. European Accessibility Act will require it from you, but let’s rather think about getting more customers, non-discrimination of people with disabilities and better search engine optimization as the main drivers for making eCommerce accessible.

December and pandemic still on the rise – how to be safe and buy all the gifts? Well online is the simplest way. But not for everybody. Unfortunately a lot of online shops totally neglect digital accessibility. Sure, some may have stuffed the alternative text on images with hundreds of keywords wishing search engines will rank their site higher but that only added to all the clutter some users have to go through before they can even decide to buy something. Then there are all the poor contrasts, modal windows with offers popping-up all the time, notification and cookie modals, giant carousels and hundreds of links and headings that are there because it seems like good search engine optimization advice. Most of it are actually accessibility failures, adding barriers for some users, making usability worse for most of the users. I think we need the online commerce experience improved to be more accessible and usable for all of the users, especially persons with disabilities.

Society needs accessible digital experiences, online shopping is one of the most critical

And I am not alone in this thinking, European Union (EU) is already on it. European Accessibility Act (EAA) is getting closer and closer and time is flying by. EU adopted the EAA in June 2019 and member states have to translate and adopt it by June 2022. So that’s like the following summer. Sure, it will take time to enforce it and it is estimated that it will happen in July of 2025, but I would really suggest that site owners start with improving the accessibility of their e-commerce solutions today.

Remember 2025 as it is the year your online shopping will finally have to be accessible for all. But this does not mean that you can wait – start today and increase your customer reach.

Smart eCommerce owners should start with accessibility as soon as possible. Being proactive will increase customer base and even help with search engines!

EAA seems to upgrade the Web Accessibility Directive (WAD) in a focused way – WAD covers only public sector (in most countries at least) and EAA will go beyond that and also cover critical services of the private sector (online banking and eCommerce as a priority for now). When thinking about the whole situation with pandemics we are a bit late but it will have positive effects on the long run. I guess that after EAA we will get even more of private online services requiring to be accessible and that is a good thing.

I don’t like the slow adoption but I do understand the reasons for it. It would only be fair that everything online is accessible from start but unfortunately we are too late for that. The simplicity, the adoption and constant evolution of the digital platforms should require accessibility as integral part from the early days. Much like security. But now we just have to fix it as soon as possible and I like that there even are legislation movements that are trying to fix it. EAA one of them.

Legislation is only one of the aspects and when online commerce owners get to understand all of positive effects on having their services accessible I hope it will really make accessibility as central as security.

Making online experiences accessible is beneficial for all

Shop owners get more customers, customers get better usability, search engines get better semantics, we may even argue that making things more accessible and simple will have positive impacts on the ecology – less computing power and less network traffic can mean a lot on major shopping sites.

It’s not a secret that search engines now add usability and performance to the scores, so SEO experts try to consult site owners in that direction as well. Core web vitals, semantic structure, large enough click/touch target areas, less or no text in images and instead text in HTML,… This does not only helps search engines and performance but also improves usability and in some cases accessibility. And I am also guessing that search engines can use the automatic accessibility testing results in the same way – ranging more accessible sites over less accessible ones.

The ultimate aspect is the user’s experience. We should not only consider people with disabilities but also people close to them – it is obvious that they will try to make business with businesses that are accessible for everybody, sometimes even boycotting inaccessible digital products. That is only a guess on my side but I would argue that it will become more and more important in the following years.

Online shops may get less diverse

The legislation requirements may cause some online shop owners to migrate from custom made solutions to some Software As A Service (SAAS) centralized solutions that will make accessibility simpler for them. This will have both positive and negative impacts on the whole sector – offering custom online shops will have to adapt and deliver and help with accessibility, for example. Smaller online shop owners will otherwise have to migrate to larger, pre-made solutions that can also be positive for the end-users – getting unified user experiences and not having to learn new patterns for different shops.

Time will show but I suspect that existing shop owners will not be able to adapt quickly and some of them may even fall into the accessibility overlay’s over-promising trap – thinking that installing a script will make their shops accessible. Others will probably migrate to SaaS that will offer the accessibility from ground up, and also making it more sustainable with some automatic tools combined with workshops and knowledge bases that will make the owners more aware and self-cared.

Start today, start with content

There is no better time than now – shop owners needs to be educated in accessibility and they need to make what they can accessible. I would suggest fixing the content first, based on possibilities of their content management systems (CMS). When all they can do is done they should invest in some basic accessibility audits to check if their platform needs to be changed in a way – or if their platform’s provider needs to fix it for them. Some parts of accessibility need proper code and majority of shop owners need technical support to do it. Starting with navigation, skip links and so on. Further it’s probably to evaluate all the third party tools that may be used. Also other digital materials, like videos, podcasts, emails, PDFs and so on.

Knowledge and awareness are key and a lot can be done with existing tools. Be prepared, increase your reach today and also get the other positive effects that accessibility can give you!

Author: Bogdan Cerovac

I am IAAP certified Web Accessibility Specialist (from 2020) and was Google certified Mobile Web Specialist.

Work as Agency co-owner web developer and accessibility lead.

Sole entrepreneur behind IDEA-lab Cerovac (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility lab) after work.

Living and working in Norway (🇳🇴), originally from Slovenia (🇸🇮), loves exploring the globe (🌐).

Nurturing the web from 1999, this blog from 2019.

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