Bells And Whistles, Or Accessibility Stop Signs?

With the advent of high-speed Internet, a treasure trove of possibilities presented themselves to the web developer. Java, embedded video, Flash and other coding options afforded online retailers the opportunity to provide entertainment, in addition to merchandise.

Visual animation is not accessible

Something to keep in mind is that while you might find a catchy tune or nifty Flash animation appealing on your home page, you may be putting up impenetrable barriers to people with disabilities.

Let’s say you sell music. Having a snippet of a popular song play when a visitor arrives would seem to be a natural sales aid. But do you offer an option to turn the music off? Is there a SKIP INTRO button? Do you allow for a few seconds between the time your page loads and the start of your music or video clip? If not, you should. The visitor using assistive technology may not be able to hear his/her screen reader if there is, simultaneously, music or video content playing. If that user cannot hear the contents of the page — product information, pricing, quantity in basket — he/she isn’t likely to stick around, no matter how appealing the tune. The best way to deal with this is to insert at least five seconds of silence after your home page loads, and place the SKIP INTRO or TURN OFF SOUND button somewhere prominent.

Forced software updates

Software requirements, too, may be costing you sales. Does your site require the latest version of Flash or Windows Media Player? Recently, I was prompted to install the newest version of Windows Media Player in order to view a website. In addition to the fact that I didn’t want to install software I felt unnecessary, I discovered this roadblock was for a simple twenty-second audio clip introducing me to the site. For this I wasted half an hour and formed an unfavorable opinion of the retailer. Forcing customers to install or update their software in order to view your site is a turn-off. While you want the best experience for your shoppers, potential customers may have difficulties with such features, or others — both those with disabilities and without — may simply prefer not to have those features get in their way.

Joseph Monks
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