Retailers should be aware of the guidelines that ensure a website will be usable by consumers with a variety of disabilities.

Lindsay Moore is vice president of strategy at Zmags. Gonzalo Mon is a partner and Crystal Skelton a senior associate at Kelley, Drye & Warren LLP.

In the first installment of this two-part series, we discussed the importance of website accessibility and the formulation of regulation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as it relates to e-commerce.

That led to some broad observations — in particular, that regulation is somewhat open for interpretation under the provisions of Title III of the ADA. As a result, over the past two years alone, more than 300 lawsuits have been filed in or removed to federal court

Lindsay Moore, Zmags

Nonetheless, it’s also possible in the fast-paced e-commerce world that as we focus on the ideal user, we may overlook the principal of inclusivity. To help you tackle accessibility concerns and proactively bring accessibility practices into play — rather than reactively dealing with ambiguous regulations — we offer these five key takeaways:

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  1. Reconsider who your customers are

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in five U.S. citizens has some form of disability. That’s a statistically significant subset of potential customers. Although not all disabilities require a website to be accessible to be used by such persons, there is a significant subset of the population, particularly blind and deaf people, that would be precluded from using the website and purchasing products if it is not designed with accessibility in mind.

  1. Understand the current regulation under Title III of the ADA

While we’ve discussed at length how the ADA is open to interpretation and that what remains is far from straightforward, we recommend a proactive approach by familiarizing yourself with the law and considering it in your site build strategy. For example, take steps to ensure your website works with assistive technologies like screen readers for the blind or partially sighted.

  1.  Use current web standards to bring your site into compliance

The World Wide Web Consortium (“W3C”) has developed the WCAG 2.0 guidelines in cooperation with individuals and organizations around the world with a goal of proving a single shared standard for web content accessibility. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) generally accepts these standards as a baseline for accessibility.

Building accessibility into a website’s design not only helps to avoid litigation, it also can increase brand awareness, goodwill and recognition from consumers who may not have been able to engage with your company online.

There are 12 guidelines organized around four principals. These include:

Perceivable

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  • Provide text alternatives for non-text content
  • Provide captions and other alternatives for multimedia
  • Create content that can be presented in different ways, including by assistive technologies, without losing meaning
  • Make it easier for users to see and hear content

Operable

  • Make all functionality available from a keyboard
  • Give users enough time to read and use content
  • Do not use content that causes seizures
  • Help users navigate and find content

 

Understandable

  • Make text readable and understandable
  • Make content appear and operate in predictable ways
  • Help users avoid and correct mistakes

Robust

  • Maximize compatibility with current and future user tools
  1. Accessibility means mobile too

Don’t forget that mobile sites and apps should be accessible too. Few need convincing that mobile has a significant role to play in the e-commerce path to purchase and that a multiplatform approach is essential to retail success. A cursory look at some recent stats shows just how significant the role of mobile has become. According to a report from Adobe, Cyber Monday 2016, the zenith of the e-commerce year, saw mobile sales totaling $1.07 billion, a 34 percent increase over 2015. And the DOJ has required through settlement agreements that companies make their mobile apps accessible too.

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  1. Create don’t code

Having to recode an entire e-commerce website so that it meets accessibility standards can seem like a daunting task, both time-consuming and costly. However, there are tools and services that are widely available to help efficiently create an accessible website — without coding. Typically, using drag-and-drop functionality to create e-commerce experiences — whether it’s a full blown website, lookbook or campaign landing page —shifts the build process from the technical to the creative realm. They are also easy to update, making the process of iteration cheaper in terms of time spent.

Building accessibility into a website’s design not only helps to avoid subjecting the company to litigation, receiving a demand letter or being the target of DOJ enforcement action, but also can increase brand awareness, goodwill and recognition for those consumers who may not have had the ability to previously engage with your company online.

Zmags provides content-creation software for online retailers. Kelley Drye & Warren LLP is a law firm based in New York City.

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