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How Retailers Can Improve Online Accessibility and Why it Matters to Get it Right

One of the biggest changes brought on by the pandemic was society’s increased reliance on the digital world. From healthcare to hospitality, businesses embraced the digital transformation and customers began acclimating to conducting purchases, scheduling appointments and managing their affairs online. However, as more and more businesses clamored to make their operations digital, many neglected to prioritize one key aspect — digital accessibility.

The What and the Why

Digital accessibility is the removal of barriers that typically prohibit users with disabilities such as vision or mobility impairments, from using and interacting with websites, digital tools or other similar types of technologies. Because consumers’ reliance on digital experiences has increased, the need for digital accessibility has become more visible, and many companies have found themselves in lawsuits over their lack of online accessibility to individuals with disabilities. If companies want to stay profitable, relevant and out of court, they are going to need to prioritize accessibility and integrate digital accessibility into the very core of their development processes.

To be clear, digital accessibility is not a new issue. Companies have always struggled to keep their websites and digital operations fully accessible, but the pandemic has certainly exacerbated the issue. When the world shut down and businesses rushed to get online, digital accessibility was not prioritized. The reasoning is understandable — businesses were trying to move as quickly as possible. But as the world settles into this new digital-first world, companies are going to need to do the right thing.

No Such Thing as One-and-Done

Accessibility isn’t a one-time fix. Why? Because websites aren’t static. Yet many companies that even address accessibility do so on an annual basis via a manual scan. Unfortunately, that just won’t cut it. The two key reasons for this are that sites are always changing, and manual audits take a very long time.

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Here’s an example for you. Say a company has a seasonal sale. To promote their sales, they’ll incorporate program banners and pop-ups onto the site, likely using an open source or legacy tool to check the accessibility of the new additions. These legacy tools have certain accessibility capabilities, but they can only do so much (in fact, there’s a whole class of accessibility issues these tools can’t identify). Additionally, even if this company has done its due diligence around accessibility, if they don’t conduct a new scan every single time they change anything on their website, there is no way to guarantee the website is as accessible as possible. 

Missing Out

Companies that do not comply with ADA regulations around digital accessibility are at risk of lawsuits. This is a fairly well-known risk. But there are so many other reasons that go beyond a courtroom as to why companies should and prioritize digital accessibility. Firstly, it’s a huge missed sales opportunity. If your online presence is not accessible to those with impairments, you’re excluding a large subset of potential consumers.

Additionally, it’s just not a good look. Rightfully so, customers are keeping a much closer eye on companies and their practices, especially around diversity, equity and inclusion measures. If a company isn’t prioritizing and improving their digital accessibility, there’s a significant risk they’re going to be called out about it.

The Road Ahead

So, where do companies go from here? How can they stay compliant and competitive? The first step involves going back to the drawing board. Companies must make sure accessibility is baked into the development process from day one. In practice that looks like using the best accessibility technology available and integrating it into the brand’s development process, taking it a step further than simple overlay tools.

It also means educating your developers and software engineers so they can identify potential issues early on. If accessibility is part of your software development process, it will be tested as much as your other functionality and enable you to detect specific accessibility issues early on in the process. Without this, these errors can often spiral out of control. An example of this is ensuring typically tricky functions like price/product order or “more” drop-down buttons are coded correctly and can work with screen readers.

The most critical component to understand is that accessibility is an ongoing process. A combination of frequent manual audits and integrated accessibility software are key to managing, detecting and correcting these issues. As more and more of our lives are conducted online, prioritizing and implementing accessibility will be key to staying successful, as well as key to avoiding potential legal issues.


Navin Thadani is the Co-founder and CEO of Evinced, a technology leader in the fast-emerging accessibility software category. Follow Evinced on Twitter and LinkedIn to learn more about the company.

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