What Amazon Teaches Us About Accessibility

  • Written by  Preety Kumar, Deque Systems

Preety Kumar DequeEvery year, Amazon sets new sales records on Prime Day, and this year was no exception: it raked in an estimated $7.16 billion, up from $4.18 billion in 2018, and $2.41 billion the previous year. One of the many facets of Amazon’s success is how it maximizes its reach, including the sizeable market of persons with disabilities.

According to recent CDC statistics, approximately 61 million, or one in four people in the U.S., are currently living with a disability (vision, hearing, mobility and cognitive impairments and more). This is a significant untapped market if your digital properties aren’t accessible, with costs high in terms of lost revenues, as well as the legal risk of lawsuits.


In spite of this, new research shows that a large majority of e-Commerce sites still have what we call “critical accessibility blockers” — design elements that make it extremely difficult or impossible for persons with disabilities to complete transactions. The research found that two-thirds of Internet transactions initiated by people with vision impairments end in abandonment because the web sites they visit aren’t accessible enough. Of the top 10 U.S. retailers scanned, two-thirds had serious accessibility issues.

Here’s how an accessibility blocker becomes critical: visually impaired Internet users rely on assistive technologies, like text-to-speech screen readers or screen magnifiers, to make sites perceivable and operable. This requires that web sites be developed to interface with assistive technology in order to convey information in an accurate and understandable manner.

Accessible design will, for example, accompany images, forms or buttons with appropriate alt text or labels that a screen reader can speak to the user (‘click here to buy’). Without such embedded text, the screen reader might only say “image.jpg” or “button link” for this particular function button — which doesn’t include enough context for anyone trying to make a purchase.

This research also found that, like Amazon, Best Buy and Target are also accessibility leaders. Many smaller retailers may feel they can’t possibly keep up with these major well-funded players. Contrary to popular belief, however, ensuring accessibility does not need to be an expensive or exhaustive effort, if you approach it methodically. These guidelines can get you started:

Address accessibility early in design and development. This is the most sure-fire way to avoid the heavy costs associated with having to alter web design and development in user-impacting production environments, not to mention ancillary costs like the resulting call center complaints. The average cost of addressing a single web accessibility complaint can cost upwards of $10,000, when all call center personnel and management, regulatory personnel, product management, developers, quality assurance and operations staff are factored in. Multiply that by 100 complaints and that’s a million dollars that inaccessibility may be costing you. Nix these issues early in development to avoid the majority of issues and the costly exercise of practicing accessibility reactively.

Leverage free tools to demonstrate progress quickly. There are numerous free tools, open source projects and resources out there that can help identify accessibility issues. Perhaps the easiest and most prevalent issue is insufficient color contrast. For example: maybe you have thin white text on a light grey button incorporated throughout your site. The popular axe Chrome browser extension would flag this issue automatically. Resolving this single style element with a proper contrast of 4.5:1 would instantly correct potentially hundreds or thousands of problems, enabling users with low vision or color blindness to easily perceive your buttons.

So don’t assume you need cost-intensive external consulting or outsourcing to get started. New capabilities are empowering all developers, even those with little or no accessibility expertise, to become skilled in identifying and resolving critical blockers. These tools can intuitively guide developers through their own digital properties to identify areas for improvement.

Involve content creators in the accessibility process. Accessibility shouldn’t be a concern only for developers and web site designers. The people who create content for your site can speed the overall process by including accessibility elements in the documents they deliver to be published. This can include descriptive labels, making certain meaningful alt text accompanies all images, and providing structured headings that give structure to the content on a page, allowing for easy navigation by screen reader users.

Don’t get hung up on perfection. In any web accessibility initiative, it’s important to be pragmatic. It’s also important to build on successes to scale accessibility testing up over time. WCAG 2.1 AAA is a worthy accessibility guideline from the W3C, but does require a more advanced understanding of accessibility as well as a combination of tools, training and people to work toward it. So set your sights on inclusivity in stages.

Given this context, ask yourself — what’s preventing you from advancing digital accessibility? 61 million Americans are looking for more options online. The top handful of retailers doesn’t have to be their only choice. Besides being the right thing to do, accessibility will pay significant business dividends in the long-term.

Preety Kumar is CEO and Founder of Deque Systems, a market leader in the field of digital accessibility, serving corporate and government clients. Deque produces digital accessibility software, services and training, working to fulfill its mission of Digital Equality.  

back to top