Editorial and Comment

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Shutting up shop

There are approximately 11 million disabled people in the UK with a total spending power of £80bn a year, according to the Department of Work and Pensions, so why are some online retailers excluding them?

Although our world has become dependent on technology, four million disabled people have never been online, whilst only 60 per cent of people with disabilities live in households with access to the internet.  

People with disabilities or limiting long term illnesses do not receive the same online experience as other people, and it is time online retailers focused on making the digital world more accessible for everyone.  

In the UK, there are a significant number of online retailers who have built respected brands and have excellent reputations but are failing to address accessibility practices and are therefore alienating a large percentage of visitors and losing potential sales. 

Many people take for granted how easy it is to use the internet. They are able to look at a web page, view the content and easily navigate around a site, before homing in on the section they are interested in, by using their eyes, a mouse and a keyboard. 

The internet should be a tool for everyone. Unfortunately, those who are blind, partially sighted or disabled in some other way are continually faced with an unnecessary amount of online barriers. 

Web designers are expected to be up to date with web accessibility and usability guidelines and practices, especially if their job role involves creating mark up.  

However, due to the recent economic turn of events, which has seen both budget cuts and redundancies,  this means that updating and improving websites for digital inclusion can be even more of a challenge.  

It is often moved to the bottom of the pile, and therefore, less time and effort is being spent on web accessibility.  

Many websites don’t accommodate assistive technologies, such as screen readers or speech recognition tools, very well. As a result, people with disabilities may not be able to use or enjoy the website. 

A number of well-known multi-million pound online retailers have also fallen victim to the idea that their potential customers believe in the ‘share everything with everyone via social media sites’ myth.  

By bombarding online visitors with a host of links to sites such as Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter, the retailer is presuming that the online user wants to share a link to the site or a product. 

From an accessibility point of view, this can be a barrier for some people. When someone on the autistic spectrum is scrolling down a web page, battling through an abundance of clutter and jargon can be very problematic.  

If these links were located at the side of the page for example, they would still be accessible but would not act as a direct obstruction on the web page itself.  

Although images work for sighted people, blind and partially sighted customers rely heavily on product or service descriptions which need to be detailed and descriptive, allowing them to gain a true indication of the product in order to make informed decisions.  

By including additional information such as size, texture and colour swatches, the website is automatically catering for a more diverse customer base.  

On the homepage of one retail website, the first heading is ‘quantity’ or ‘basket summary’. Having this as the first heading on the page isn’t helpful for screen reader users who rely on headings to understand the structure of content on the page.  

Web pages should contain key sections underneath a level one heading that welcomes the user to the site and explains that it is the main content area. 

Many retail websites contain links that say something like ‘find out more’, which leaves some people wondering, find out more about what?  

Due to the lack of clarity, someone using screen magnification would need to explore the information around the link to find out what the link is connected to. 

Web designers must ensure every link is named meaningfully for the convenience of both able and disabled users.  

Online retailers must remember that making websites accessible to people of all abilities and disabilities is vital to providing an inclusive online experience.

When websites are designed, developed and edited correctly, all users should have equal access to information and functionality. 

We are a founder member of the British Assistive Technology Association 





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