April 25, 2024

What Shopify store owners need to know

Ruth Gwilt
April 25, 2024

Web accessibility is the practice of making websites usable by people with disabilities and impairments. These disabilities could be related to visual, cognitive, auditory, speech or motor function.

We will detail how to make your ecommerce website accessible in another article, but for now, let’s focus on the Why…

Legal Considerations

There is a common misconception that only public bodies are required to serve accessible websites and it’s true that they have a separate legislation: the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations. But every UK goods and service provider has a legal obligation, as outlined in the Equalities Act 2010 (EQA), not to discriminate against people based on a number of protected characteristics – including disability.

But what exactly does that mean on a practical basis? The Equality and Human Rights Commission adds a little more detail to this. It states that there is a requirement for “…service providers to take positive steps to ensure that disabled people can access services. This goes beyond simply avoiding discrimination. It requires service providers to anticipate the needs of potential disabled customers for reasonable adjustments."

Neither the EQA or EHRC are specific about exactly what that entails but the best, and really only, agreed standard we have for web accessibility is WCAG 2.1 (Level AA). Working to this standard and publishing an Accessibility Statement on your website is the safest assumption for brands. 

As it stands, no businesses have been taken to court for non-compliance with the Equalities Act, but RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) have brought discrimination cases which have been settled out of court. We may see an increase in legal action however, as was seen in the USA in 2023, and as support and awareness for disability barriers increases.

Cost vs Revenue

It’s true that making websites accessible can take a little longer to design, develop and test. You might think that disabled people make up a small proportion of your audience and so accessibility isn’t something you can afford to support. However, the following statistics might suggest otherwise:

Along with these numbers, consider this diagram from the Microsoft Inclusive Design programme. It shows how, along with the people covered in the statistics above, there are also a range of users with temporary and situational scenarios which affect their ability to use and interact with their devices. (Obviously we don’t expect anyone to be purchasing from us while driving but there are a myriad of other distractions which might be going on while customers are browsing and buying!)

(image source: Microsoft Inclusive Design)

By creating accessible, inclusive ecommerce websites and content, we’re making it easier for everyone to shop with us, from those with permanent disabilities, to those of us who just aren’t giving it our full attention.

So actually, when you think of it like that, is it something you can afford to ignore?

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